Suppose a mob of Illinois’ rural poor decides to storm Chicago to protest the government, whom they see as inattentive to their needs. Invoking their right to peaceful assembly, they converge on Daley Plaza by the hundreds of thousands, forcing major businesses and government buildings within a four-block radius to close. Another massive contingent barricades Michigan Avenue, shutting down the shopping centers and important tourists attractions as well. The Art Institute and Millennium Park are closed, and even the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo must be transported to other facilities. Traffic in Chicago is three times as bad as during the worst rush hour; the protestors have forced the closure of several major streets throughout the city. And, when a professor from UIC voices his disapproval, the protestors threaten to invade campus and halt university operations. At what point is their rally a valid form of civil disobedience, and when does it become domestic terrorism?
This is the situation today in Bangkok, my hometown. Composed mostly of Thailand’s rural poor, who accuse the current government of elitism and illegitimacy, an enormous mob of red-shirted protestors has Bangkok’s central tourist and financial district in a chokehold, using their right to peaceful assembly as a pretense for coercing the government to meet their demands. Leading them is billionaire business tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister of Thailand. Ousted from power in 2006 for corruption charges – among them tax fraud and embezzlement on a national scale – Thaksin has since been jet-setting around the world to countries such as Montenegro, Sweden, and Dubai to avoid a jail term at home while encouraging his followers to topple the current government, which was established by Parliament to take his place.
His rural followers, the Red Shirts – most of whom prospered when the billionaire was in power and could throw money at their communities – want new elections immediately. Their goal is to vote Thaksin’s allies into power, who would then acquit the fugitive of his crimes and thereby permit his return to office. Real democracy, indeed.
I assume that for most of you, this is all Greek, not having any background in the events or a stake in how they progress. But for me, the unrest is like a cloud on my day: not only do I have family in Thailand, but the country also holds prospects for me as far as school and career plans go. Most of all, I am ashamed and deeply embarrassed by the behavior of my countrymen, and humiliated by the loss of face we have sustained. One of the world's premier travel destinations, Thailand has long been marketed as the "Land of Smiles," touting the supposedly friendly, laid-back, and deferential nature of its people. But with the recent decay of traditional social values, that image is increasingly false, and Thailand has become dangerously unstable.
Welcome, travelers, to the Land of Frowns.
Red Shirts, go home. Lobby your representatives instead of taking to the streets. No one believes your dribble about peaceful demonstrations; you have invalidated what otherwise may have been reasonable claims. You have become thugs and terrorists, and your fellow citizens are weary of you.
No more dissolutions of Parliament. No more Thaksin. No more Red Shirts. No more violence.