No room for reason in a storm of whistles

national January 08, 2014 00:00

By Pravit Rojanaphruk

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Waving a gigantic Thai national flag, blowing whistles en masse and calling themselves "the great mass of the people" - this is how the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) project themselves to the world.

These symbols and name, if read critically, offer food for a disturbing thought, however.
The use of the Thai national flag, for a starter, declares their patriotism. However, when used against fellow Thai citizens, it is akin to an attempted monopolisation of patriotism and implicitly suggests that the other side – who are in fact also Thais – may be unpatriotic or even “un-Thai”.
This resulted in a unpleasant reaction late last year when a picture of red shirts on a pickup truck carrying a Thai national flag sans the blue stripe, the symbolic colour of the monarchy, appeared on social media. While the authenticity of such a flag could not be independently confirmed, some royalists took it seriously enough and I read a commentary on a major newspaper condemning such an act.
On Twitter, I asked: How can Thais use the national flag as the main symbol in a fight against fellow Thais? And does this suggest they’re fighting a “foreign” enemy?
One Thai PDRC supporter and royalist using the account @pampam_northcap tweeted back saying: “Betrayers of the monarchy do not deserve to be Thai.”
Such a sense of self-righteousness can also be extended to the PDRC’s planned shutdown of Bangkok. Since they’re patriotic and flag-waving, they must think they can do whatever they like.
The blowing of whistles, meanwhile, may be a desperate attempt to call for attention, but its deafening noise suggests a one-way communication. It implicitly says: “You must listen to me, but I will not hear you.”
The deafening sound of the whistle means nothing more than the blaring out of anger. Again, it doesn’t matter if it disturbs others, as the whistle blowers are “patriots”. It always boils down to the belief that any means is justifiable to achieve a “righteous” goal.
On the Internet, some opponents have now christened it the “whistle of hatred”, as PDRC members target people they hate or who work for the ousted and fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra as the subject of their whistle blowing.
Then there’s the feel-good characterisation of PDRC supporters as “the great mass of the people”, which is deceptive as in fact it might be more accurate to describe them as “the great mass of the minority”, or the “great mass of the middle-class and elites”.
This is because they’re not the majority – not that a minority has no rights, but the use of the term “great mass” masks the fact that 5 million or 10 million people are in fact a minority in a country of nearly 70 million. This reflects their insecurity regarding their number, vis-a-vis the rest of the population.
It is easier to shut your eyes and ears and blow a whistle and shut down Bangkok than to open your hearts to dialogue and try to win others through reason.
I fully respect the PDRC’s right to boycott the election, but the PDRC has no right to suppress others’ right to vote – unless they think they’re superior to the rest. It is hoped that they’re not too busy blowing whistles or shutting down Bangkok to hear such a simple message and think about their legitimacy or lack thereof.

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