This is no peasant’s revolt

The Nation

Red leaders were happy to stir the protesters into a frenzy and then abandon them when the battle seemed lost

If anyone still thinks the ongoing street battle in Bangkok is a war between the urban rich and the rural poor, they need to think again. First of all, it might be easy to come to this simplistic perception as video after video and photograph after photograph suggest. On the one hand, there is a professional military armed with modern weapons, while on the other is a bunch of ragtag villagers and urban poor using Stone-Age weapons. Outnumbered and outgunned, these red shirts are putting their lives on the line to “liberate” this kingdom from the evil rich.

At first it was, “No, we don’t have any weapons. We are peaceful people.” But as the past six days have showed, these red shirt liberators are no longer camera shy. The closer the camera gets to them, the cockier they get. One man was in his underwear dancing for them. Another put up his toddler on the barricade. Somehow there was a desire to perform for the camera. One wondered why.

It’s also difficult to miss the English signs and placards around the red enclaves. They read: “Democracy” and “Stop killing innocent women and children” and so on. And while television cameras capture these placards, red leaders turn up the heat on the stage, getting the crowd rowdy.

And as these images and sound-bytes shape the context of understanding of these events, meanwhile, on the government side we hear the word “terrorist” over and over to the point that it becomes almost meaningless.

It has been a hard-sell for the government counter-propaganda strategy, partly because homemade rockets and slingshots cannot be compared to hijacked planes crashing into tall buildings. But playing the “terrorist” card could prove disastrous, especially when the time comes to make concessions.

The red leaders have succeeded in getting their crowd into the fight of their lives. And then all of a sudden, after hundreds had been injured and scores killed, they wanted to call it quits. Unfortunately, they created Frankenstein, and the monster is tossing Molotov cocktails into shopping malls.

Nevertheless, through the lens of television cameras over these past weeks and months, the world has seen a compelling story made from incomprehensible data that reinforces what the audience wants to believe. The bottom line is that people believe what they see.

And what they see is a greedy elites versus the impoverished poor, and of course, the latter will always be right, as they hold the moral high ground. It’s a mindset that shaped human history and it sells, and it is easy to consume once it is reduced to bite-size.

But is “good versus evil” the only way to see a developing country like Thailand – through the same lens that one used for other troubled places like Manila two decades ago or Rangoon just a year ago? The uprising in Thailand is no Philippine’s “People Power” and Prime Minister Abhhisit Vejjajiva is no Ferdinand Marcos.

Never mind Tiananmen Square, but let’s imagine if this was Paris, London or New York, the reds doing what they have done, they wouldn’t have lasted for more than a week.

Is it because third world countries do not deserve the same kind of civility and ground rules that we see in Western society? Being reminded of one’s deep prejudices isn’t pleasant.

Furthermore, the fact that Abhisit made a serious offer – to hold a general election by November – that was rejected by the red leaders makes one wonder if the people’s mandate was ever on their mind in the first place. They seem to care more about getting bail after this wave of street battles comes to an end than the wellbeing of the ordinary red shirts.

But the red leaders do not have a monopoly on selfishness and insensitivity. Their role model, Thaksin Shinawatra, was seen strolling along the Champs Elysees in Paris with his youngest daughter while his red followers were taking the bullets, partly to help pave the way for his pardon and the return of his money seized by the state – and partly, of course, for democracy, liberty and justice for all.

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