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Nation analysis

Violence and bloodshed won't solve problems

The current political violence is a poignant reminder that Thai culture is not as peaceful and gentle as officials like to claim through government textbooks and tourist brochures. In the last two months, eight people have been killed and over 300 injured.

As conflict over the election and reform process continues, it can only be concluded that the number of casualties will rise.

In fact, a compilation of photos of the victims or participants in political violence over the past decade alone would make very disturbing viewing, and it would surely outsell all the books that idealise the "amazing Kingdom of Thailand".

Instead of simply condemning the bloodshed - which all of us should do - perhaps we should also ask ourselves why Thai society is so prone to political violence.

At least three key factors underpin this penchant for violence, and it all boils down to the way some people think.

First, is the sense of absolute self-righteousness. Thais are often taught through a conservative education system that there can only be one correct answer. Thus, if you think you are right, your opponents must therefore be wrong and misguided. Within this context, a political conflict can become a struggle between good and evil - not just a struggle between fellow human beings with different political opinions and ideologies.

Back in 1976 on the morning of October 6, it was mostly university students who were abused, killed and mutilated due to anger over a photo used by royalists, who claimed to be defending the monarchy.

Fast forward to 2010, when 99 people - mostly anti-government red shirts - were killed on the streets of Bangkok during the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration. However, most people only mourned the loss of those on their respective sides.

It was the same situation last Thursday - but in reverse - when a police officer was killed and there was an outpouring of sympathy and condolence from pro-Yingluck Shinawatra government red-shirts, while the protesters who clashed with police were mostly mute. There was only a brief mention of the police officer's death by leaders of the People's Democratic Reform Committee.

On the night of November 30 and in the early hours of December 1, five people were killed. It was not a "personal feud", one person observed to this writer on Twitter. "No," I replied.

"It's not a personal matter, but something far worse because these people were killed by strangers - just because they happened to have a different political opinion. This makes it tragic."

Tolerance of people with different political views is not possible if one believes there can only be one path that is right. Such an attitude is compounded by the ethos that the ends justify whatever means one takes - the second problematic factor.

Thus, calls for and support of a military coup - with 18 "successful coups" over the last 81 years of the Thai democratic system - are seen as acceptable for the current anti-government camp. This explains a belief in a "good coup" - like the one back in 2006.

The reality of the 2006 military intervention was that it nullified the electoral rights of millions who did not support the putsch. It was in fact a form of political violence.

Many Thais may appear to be kind and ready to avoid conflict on a superficial level, but this tendency is "unnatural" and not suited to democratic principles, because conflict is a natural part of the democratic system, which then searches for peaceful solutions.

Despite deeply rooted traditions that teach Thais to avoid conflict in daily life, many are unable to resolve political conflict peacefully through deliberation and compromise. Instead, they end up resorting to violence in an attempted to annihilate "the other side". Such zero-tolerance is reprehensible in a modern, heterogeneous society.

Nothing will change unless we first acknowledge the reality of political violence. We must acknowledge that some aspects of our culture and our thinking are not suited to a tolerant, democratic society.

Resorting to force and violence in an attempt to "solve" our political problems will not work. In fact, political violence, and the thinking which endorses it, has become a problem in itself.


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