Fomenting a culture of absolute hate
Call me a multi-coloured salim, a term used to describe a person with no political standpoint. Call me a softy, an optimist. Call me a sissy if you like, but I will still admit to feeling extremely shocked and saddened by red-shirt supporters' celebrations over the killings of anti-government protesters in Trat last week.
After an announcement by a provincial red-shirt leader onstage during the group’s weekend gathering that five supporters of anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban were given an appropriate ''welcome'' — killed — in the eastern province, there was ferocious clapping and gleeful smiles. The response was just like the euphoria usually witnessed at a concert, a collective high.
Call me a bourgeois babe, but I watched a video clip of the event and felt sick to my stomach.
It’s the same sickening feeling I have when seeing a group of women wearing green-and-yellow T-shirts supposedly in celebration of ''popcorn'' shooters, the unidentified armed men who have apparently been defending the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters using force.
The "popcorn warriors" have appeared twice, first at Laksi and the second time at Phan Fah. At Phan Fah, they caused five deaths.
It seems that the making of the enemy is complete in Thailand. The culture of hatred, sowed and vigorously nurtured by all sides since the coup in 2006, has firmly taken root, spreading through every community, down to every single household in the country.
This is where the real battle lies. We keep watch on who will cave first out of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra with her police force, and Mr Suthep with his popcorn warriors. In the end, however, it probably does not matter who wins the day as it is the extreme hatred and polarisation that will rule in the long run.
It is clear that leadership on both sides of the conflict have roused the crowd to the point that many feel they have to kill to protect their values and interests, or risk being killed. Both sides have seemingly released the beasts in the hearts of their followers. How can either of them tone things down after that?
The red shirts who support the Yingluck government are talking about how they have guns and carry them around. They talk about how they are ready to shoot first. A red-shirt leader even told his supporters that there are as many as 10 million guns in the country, ready for Thais to defend themselves.
Ever since red-shirt leader, Charupong Ruangsuwan, who is also doubling as the country’s caretaker interior minister, said this, it makes it hard for ordinary Thais to feel safe as the country staggers on under an impotent state of emergency.
The loathing is as widespread and palpable on the protesters’ side. It’s common to hear words of satisfaction expressed by PDRC supporters over the deaths of policemen whom they regard as lackeys of ex-PM and "chief devil" Thaksin Shinawatra.
We have reached this juncture where Thailand is essentially at war with itself because the country’s leadership at all levels has failed us. There have been times since 2006 when compromises could have been made that would have put the country back on an even keel.
There have been times when power could have been shared among many groups instead of being concentrated in the hands of the few. But leaders have spurned these possibilities because they believed they could win it all. Instead of fostering a sense of unity our leaders have sown seeds of hatred.
They cry for their own fallen heroes while reducing the reality of the deaths of their enemies to collateral damage. They have no qualms in calling people who have a different political ideology "cockroaches" or "buffaloes". They have actively sought out differences at the cost of diminishing any possible common ground.
The failure of leadership, a complete breakdown in professional as well as moral obligations and personal sacrifice that usually guide a nation out of its darkest hours, has brought us here. Thaksin, Ms Yingluck, anti-government protest leader Mr Suthep, or opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, all share the blame, together with other leaders of political parties, public institutions, the civil service, academia and the mass media.
The political wrangles between Ms Yingluck and Mr Suthep will drag on as neither side has what it takes to unseat the other. The desperate campaign of the equally weak, however, has become fertile ground for the much more dreadful plague of hatred. This hate and extremism must stop, or we will be looking at a new shared destination: Rwanda.
Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.