It's not terrorism we fear
To live abroad is to surrender your right to an opinion. It is the firm price of admission.
You cannot vote, should a country be democratic. You do not join political protests. You do not (publicly) question or condemn culture or tradition. And you most certainly do not write accusatory opinion columns for a large, daily newspaper.
But with any loss comes gain. And how easy it is, to live largely unburdened by the weight of social responsibility! You drift, a wispy cloud on exotic wind. Your obligations are dumbed down, childlike things. A nine-year-old does not lose sleep over mortgage payments, just as the expatriate does not hold anything but fleeting concern for the political well-being of his country of residence. These are not your people, and these are not your laws, and therefore, their effects and consequences are not sharply felt. You are cloaked in a padded security blanket. False comfort indeed, but try convincing the addict that the warm glow of his heroin is not real.
Some -- many -- are able to reconcile with this fact, should they ponder it. I am not one of them. Put on hold, my agitations fester. I become angry and uncomfortable and sad, and I am forced to recognise that my life in Thailand must be temporary, that one day I must leave, to settle in a place where my voice is wanted, or at the very least respected. I am both distressed and greatly relieved by this knowledge.
I will miss a life without social responsibility, but I also am starving for one that contains it, because the absence of social responsibility ushers in a loss of control, itself a stem from which grow vivid blossoms of fear. And the average Thai expatriate is well acquainted with fear.
He is not afraid of being raped, or robbed, or mugged. He is not afraid of the Thai people at all, because so many -- like so many in every nation -- are kind and generous and curious and good-hearted. Nor is he afraid of being mowed down by bullets, nor of being blown apart at a crowded shrine on a Monday evening. One does not live in fear of murder. To do so is to die but remain alive.
The NCPO's recent statement, made Sunday on TV Pool, reiterating to the public foreigners' confidence in Thai security and tourism, is one, then, with which I agree. No foreigner greatly fears another terrorist attack.
But this is neither thanks to police nor governmental efforts. It is not thanks to doormen in little hats who squeeze our personal belongings as we walk into shopping malls or board public transportation.
We do not fear a looming terrorist threat in Thailand simply because we cannot. Terrorism is unpredictable and callous and blind. It is like cancer, or Alzheimer's, or brain aneurysms. Could these things happen to any of us? Of course. Can actions be taken to prevent these horrors? Sometimes. Yet it is silly to live in active fear of them.
Make no mistake, however: the foreigner in Thailand is by no means safe. Our lives may not be in immediate danger, but they are immersed in a simmering broth of distrust and contempt and, of course, fear. And how safe can we be, if we are always afraid?
We fear the police, which we believe to be a corrupt force, jowl-faced men with reptilian eyes who will say and do anything and everything for money, or to save face. We fear an imprudent government led by a man who presents himself, to us, as unfeeling and disingenuous. And we fear a society that, with rare exception, takes the word of these men as hard truth, either because they cannot question it or because they will not.
Foreigners in Thailand are afraid of the very men working so diligently to convince the public that it has nothing to fear. We are afraid of them on a good day, much less when they are illuminated beneath an international spotlight. We believe these men to be capable of atrocity, and that they act upon prideful, self-serving motives.
There will always be tourists in Thailand. Its beaches and its mountains and its food and its beauty and its vibrancy will forever and inexorably beckon millions. They will never stop coming. And there will always be foreign residents, here for work and for pleasure. Some will stay out of love for this country; others for the easy life it affords them.
But these people will never truly be safe. Not in this social climate. Not while the men who are currently in power remain at large.
Adam Kohut is the subeditor for Guru magazine of the Bangkok Post.
Sub-editor for Guru magazine
Adam Kohut is the sub-editor for Guru magazine of the Bangkok Post.