Friday, August 20, 2010

Guns and Omelets

In the spring of 2006 I went to the area where protesters were camped out, demonstrating against their Prime Minister, who had conducted a war on drugs in which suspects were shot on the spot without being sentenced, who had been responsible for the suffocation of 78 protesters who had been packed into the backs of trucks like cordwood in the southern district of Tak Bai, who had sold a controlling interest in his telecommunication company to Singapore for $1.9 billion dollars on which he paid no taxes to the government he headed.

The camp was peaceful and hospitable and I wandered through feeling that Thailand had achieved a pinnacle in free speech and public protest. Later that week I watched a march stream past Mahboonkrong, Siam Square and Paragon. People poured down the street with hundreds of supporters cheering them on from the sidewalk, the footbridges, and the skytrain platforms. As I watched, a ripple of excitement reached the area where I stood and a man beside me asked in English, "Do you know what is happening? Chulalongkorn University has joined the march. It's the first time they have taken part in a protest."

And then the street was awash in pink, the color of Chula, and spectators were cheering wildly and my skin prickled. It still does when I think about it. The old saw "This is what democracy looks like" was at the forefront of my mind, along with memories of other protests in this country that had ended in blood. I was thrilled by the courage of the people who marched and awed by the dignity and peace with which their demonstration took place.

Since then many things have gone awry. In the clash of colors, the atrocities of the former Prime Minister seem to have been forgotten. People whom I respect believe what is happening now is a necessary stage in achieving a democratic government. It has been pointed out that more people mourn the destruction of Central World Plaza than they do the people who died in April and May. The random violence that has occurred sporadically since the Red Shirt protest was crushed is being discounted by some as being of little consequence.

I'm not naive and I know that omelets are made only from broken eggs and that change must come through a barrel of a gun and that democratic governments are all based upon violence, one way or the other, be it Valley Forge or the guillotine or Partition. I believe people are better off in China now than they were before Mao and wonder if this would have happened without the Cultural Revolution.

And yet what a friend of mine recently describes as a "small bomb that killed one person" went off on a downtown sidewalk the night before the religious holiday of Khao Phansaa. Its timing was as deeply sad as its injury of ten people and its killing of one. It invaded a day that is integral to many Thai people's spiritual lives. That is true terrorism.

When I take the Skytrain, I pass three sites that were torched in May. They are all being rebuilt. I also pass a temple that I feel has been desecrated forever. People were killed on the grounds of a place that has traditionally provided shelter and sanctuary and safety for all who come there. The shops will reopen. People will return to their jobs. The temple will always be haunted.

I wish I could pick a side and believe that eggs must be broken, but I've never been a true believer in any dogma--and I hate omelets. It's time for me to move on.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Beautifully written. Thank you.