Newyears Bangkok Bombing

We ended up at a small housewarming/new years gettogether last night instead of the big party we were originally going to. The excuse being that Colin has a cold, but really it was just more our style. We’re planning to go to full moon in a few days so we’ll still get our drunken revelry in, no doubt.

Anyway we were hanging out in the kitchen and a few people were watching TV when the announcer said something to the effect of “…and there you have it, another wonderful new years celebration in Thailand and another great year soon to come. Also two more bombings in Bangkok. Goodnight everybody!”. I guess this is pretty typical reporting; they didn’t want to worry people or bring the party down or whatever. Turns out there had been bombs going off all evening and the festivities in Bangkok and Chiang Mai were cancelled, which explained why they’d been showing footage from Taipei and Sydney instead.

There was a total of eight bombs (maybe nine?) that went off, killing two people and blowing various bits off Thais and unlucky farangs. They targeted malls and restaurants as well as police booths; really horrible business. There has been a lot of this going on in the southern provinces but this is the first time it’s happened in Bangkok.

Since we moved here, I’ve tried to follow what has been going on with the southern insurgency and the aftermath of the coup. To put it plainly, I suck at politics, and I hope I don’t offend anyone with these naive statements that I’m only backing up with my feelings.

So I think I grasp the basics. One of the reasons behind the coup was that the former government was doing a shitty job of dealing with those angry Muslims in the south. Their approaches consisted of pretending it wasn’t happening, making empty promises, and sending soldiers down there to kill people. The attacks have gotten worse over the last five years; escalating from driveby shootings on police to bombing schools and public places. The insurgents are being funded but noone seems to know from where (or think it’s from selling soup??).

One thing I’ve never understood about the whole thing – about a lot of terrorism everywhere – is that nobody takes credit for the attacks. They don’t say why they are doing it. They don’t release statements or lists of demands. They don’t even want people to know who is responsible. How is anyone supposed to fix the problem in the south if they don’t even know what it is??

Not that it isn’t obvious what the problem is in a general sense; it’s a clash of cultures with a long history of government suppression and disproportionatly violent responses. But what can the government do to fix that? What would make these people happy? Their own country? Respect for their culture? Expulsion of all the Buddhists? Jobs? Money? By not taking responsibility, it seems to me their only goals are to undermine the government and chase off all the tourists.

So after the military coup, the new leaders decided to take a different approach: negotiate with the insurgents; maybe even let them govern themselves by Muslim law and officially speak their own language. And the response to this? Even more violence than before, and now in the capitol. WTF do these people want?

Admittedly the negotiation idea was flawed, because still nobody knows who is doing the bombings and whoever it is refuses to come forward to talk. I’ve been thinking about it and I guess I can think of a few reasons to not come forward:

1) They believe (probably correctly) that the moment the Thai government can identify and target them, they’ll mount a serious offence and wipe the buggers out, US-style.

2) I gather the idea of terrorism (and yes I think that is the right word for it after all), is to get everyone all excited and confused and upset: to create unrest. If people understood why they were being blown up on the way home from work and who was doing it, it probably wouldn’t be as terrifying.

So I guess unlike the showy, no-innocents-got-hurt bombings in V for Vendetta, it’s not about making regular voting Thais wake up and take notice of what their government has been doing to the poor Malays in the south. It’s about freaking people out sufficiently that they blame the government for not protecting them. Then the government will have to act, or be… well… kicked out and replaced by the military.

Okay, maybe this has been obvious to you all along, but I’m catching up here.

Back to the bombing in Bangkok last night. Not surprisingly, it was anonymous once again. What is surprising is that the government isn’t blaming it on southern insurgents this time; they’re pointing fingers at supporters of the old premier, Thaksin (pronounced Taxxin – thank you totally unphonetic Thai spelling).

This seems completely baseless to me, or at least I don’t understand the reasoning. I can think of a few reasons for the new government to claim it even if it isn’t true:

1) If there are Thaksin supporters out there who were thinking of stirring up trouble, the military can now toss them in jail preemptively

2) Thaksin is one rich mutha, and now they can seize his assets with the claim of cutting off terrorism funding.

3) If people believed the insurgents did it, it wouldn’t reflect well on the new government. After all, dealing with the south was one of the platforms, if you can call it that, for supporting the coup.

So what do the Thai people think? Well, we’ll never freaking know, because talking politics is even worse than wearing tank tops around here. Writing about it is probably some kind of terrible heresy that could get me shunned in my favorite restaurants. So I hope they don’t find out. But like the clothes thing it’s something I have a hard time agreeing with and one of the reasons I like hanging out with the expats on the island. The guys we met last night had some really interesting things to say about living here and fitting in to Thai culture (or not).


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