In a long drawn out struggle for a truly free, equal, and democratic society, sometimes we forget what we stand for and what are our cherished principles.
The minutes and hours after Tuesday’s surprise assault against well-known pro-establishment and serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya was telling. The vast majority of the so-called pro-democracy camp flooded social media with congratulatory message, schadenfreude.
“MVP of the year,” wrote a user on Facebook page “No Salim.” “Yeah! Finally, a true hero showed up … the best thing that happened this year in my country,” tweeted user @KoMnz.
Not just little-known social media users rejoiced, publicly known figures in the camp also at least justified the attack. “If you believe that ‘a military coup is a necessary evil,’ then assaulting Srisuwan was also necessary,” wrote Baramee Chaiyarat, a staunch campaigner for the release of political prisoners.
Well-known redshirt activist Anurak Jeantawanich, himself once a victim of political violence through assault wrote on Tuesday, “I don’t see anything wrong. If he kicks [Srisuwan] again, I will crowdfund him again.”
Some are more soul searching, but only posted a comment on Facebook to be visible only to their friends.
A prominent female member of the monarchy-reform movement wrote on her Facebook that the powers that be and people like Srisuwan have been unleashing various forms of violence over the years that at times, it may be less graphic, so a proportionate retaliation should be defended. She said those who are idealist and criticize the attack by Weerawit are just not realistic. “We should talk about violent [retaliation] and its proportionality.”
The attacker, Weerawit Rungruengsiriphon, 62, aka “Uncle Sak,” who punched and kicked Srisuwan in front of reporters and news cameras was nearly unanimously and instantly lauded as a “hero” of the pro-democracy camp and many transferred cash to his bank account.
It went to the point where when he was briefly arrested before being granted bail, Weerawit denied having earned over six million baht from crowd-funding donations as reported by one major local media. He would not divulge how much he has received, however.
No matter how much I understand why many in the pro-democracy camp were elated by the attack, it cannot be condoned and must be condemned. It marks another proof that the fight for a truly democratic, free, and peaceful society will be much harder and take longer time. It must also include reflexivity among members of the pro-democracy camp.
For those who say do not be an idealist, it is an eye for an eye and dog eats dog world out there, or that there should be no mercy for those deemed as “bad” and a hindrance for freedom and democracy, I say ask yourself if democracy is not a form of idealism and ask yourself what principle do you cherished?
We cannot create a free and democratic Thailand based on violence and fears.
It is not difficult and even tempting for people to resort to more violence if people publicly and overwhelmingly expressed support for it. But is non-violence not a core principle of a free and democratic society?
We cannot say we are against violence and condone such attacks by saying that is an exemption. That is what some ultra-royalists do when defending the draconian lese majeste law, which is disproportionate in its severity and against free speech, as necessary to protect the monarchy.
Yes, we need to talk about structural violence, not readily visible violence unleashed through unjust laws such as the lese majeste in which Srisuwan has accused a number of people, causing some to lose their career prospects and more.
These things must be dealt with, and I will deal with it in a separate column in the future, but graphic violent retaliation will simply not make Thailand democratic and free in a sustainable manner.