Sunday, April 11, 2010
Wrath of the Gods, Part III
Tonight, we do not have so much a state of emergency as an emergency of state. It is a day that began with an evil omen with three possible interpretations, and ended up with eleven dead people and absolutely no progress. 28 soldiers are being held as hostages. Which means that we have left the realm of peaceful protest and entered the rocky territory of terrorism.
Many months ago, Thaksin gave an interview to the foreign media in which he self-righteously proclaimed that Thailand was a failed state. At the time, that statement seemed ridiculous: the present government, which bears no real relationship with the coup that dislodged him, was moving successfully, if tentatively, toward fixing the economy, and was continuing, even improving on, the pro-rural-poor policies which were among the more positive aspects of Thaksin's rule. (He is demonized by some and deified by others; the reality is far more complex ... if he has to be mythologized, it should not be as a god or demon, but as the tragic hero who begins his journey with every divine blessing and falls victim to his own hubris.)
However, a government that can't control a mob that bombs government buildings, takes over major thoroughfares, and answers rubber bullets with an AK-47 and exploding gas tanks is, by every practical measure, a failure.
We're not talking moral failure, or right and wrong, here. Abhisit's government is by no means morally bankrupt. Other governments we have had would not have used rubber bullets. Thaksin's government had no compunction about the extrajudicial murder of accused drug dealers in order to fulfill a "drug war" quota, or of shooting at crowds of people as long as they were Muslim and in a distant province. We're talking failure as in dysfunctional.
I thought the pundits would be all over this morning's omen — a Buddha image, a copy of Thailand's most sacred object, the Emerald Buddha, brought to the Rajprasong area demonstration and set up in a place of honour, tumbled to the ground and broke into two pieces just as they came to arrest some red shirt leaders. However, apart from this news being tucked away in the NATION's iPhone news app, I never saw anyone else mention it publicly. There has been plenty of private mention, though.
I see 3 interpretations: (a) The Buddha is angry at the red shirts and no longer wishes to protect them (b) the Buddha is angry at the government for trying to arrest the leaders (c) The Buddha image represents the sacred wholeness of this country which is now irreparably broken. As a novelist and a poet, I find the third interpretation to be the most powerful.
It's now about eleven thirty pm and the battles have calmed down, but there is no resolution. The most disturbing event of the day is a non-event. The Prime Minister did not appear on television to report on the day's events as he has promised to do each day. Many in this town are complaining bitterly about how this would have been dealt with in the "good old days".
Speculation is therefore rife that, behind the scenes, Something Big may be going on. The paper, this morning, said that "certain important parties" wanted this conflict to end.
I seriously do not think that dissolving the Parliament will solve things. The population of Bangkok is now so fed up with the marauding mob that it's conceivable that an election held tomorrow would not go the way the red shirts had in mind. And if it did, the yellow shirts would be back.
Maybe we need a more radical solution. For example, instead of dissolving parliament, why not dissolve Thailand? Not the country ... the word.
Many people of my parents's generation might agree that Thailand was born under an unlucky star, and that if we became Siam again, it would symbolically and astrologically heal the country.
It's not just the name, you see. Siam was a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. The name Thailand was chosen in a jingoistic time, and basically exalts the dominant ethnos of this diverse country and turns everyone else into a second-class citizen. It's a very nationalistic name if you happen to belong to that ethnos, but if you're a member of a hill tribe, or a Muslim, it makes you wonder if you really belong. In fact, thinking of this country as the Country of the Ethnically Thai Peoples is the psychological block that prevents hill tribe members who have lived here for generations from being able to get a passport.
Could not the idea of reaching out, of inclusivity, be re-awakened by the simple act of changing back the name? And wouldn't this reconnect modern Thais with their history so that the land and its past are all woven from the same cloth? And wouldn't tourists finally realize that this is not Taiwan?
Okay, it's a stupid idea, what's in a name and all that. But in this country, when you have a run of bad luck, you cure it by getting an astrologer to change your name. It might also work with entire nations.
If I think of a more practical solution, I'll be sure to tell you.
Meanwhile, a friend of mine who is a member of parliament sent me a message that in the Suan Benjkiti at 9 am tomorrow there is going to be a gathering of the "silent majority" who have had enough and want to take the country back. "From whom?" one might ask. If one only knew....
If you live on Sukhumvit, check that meeting out. The note says "shirts can be of any color."
Addendum: No, I'm wrong: Abhisit DID appear on TV after all, much, much later. He said they would get to the bottom of the deaths.