Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich is a visiting fellow at the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation at the University of Warwick and is based at Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand. He reacts to Monday's attack.
Thailand is, during this week of mourning, attempting to more fully contend with the tragedy and shock of the widely reported explosion, which has devastated the lives of many who were within the vicinity of the landmark Erawan Hindu Shrine in central Bangkok, at the height of Monday’s rush-hour.
Although, in the wake of just such an incident, it may be premature to make categorical claims, and despite the inherent dangers in taking too much note of the still rather variant reporting, it is a reasonable possibility that this was some kind of an act of terrorism, which would, more than likely, have unforeseen ramifications for Thailand, well into the future.
The effects may then be felt not only by those who were stricken - including the now more than 20 who are confirmed to have died - but, also, by Thais, in general, who are adapting to life within a seemingly irreconcilable society. For, Thailand is a country already on the brink, and any additional stressors could catalyse an almost inevitable descent into further disintegration, and ultimate chaos.
In terms of the events of that day, I had, on the morning of the 17th of August, 2015, just returned to Bangkok, after flying in from Phnom Penh, and I had - like thousands of others, both Thais and foreigners alike - taken the opportunity to go right by the shrine, less than an hour before the blast hit, as I made my way to one of my appointments.
The events on the street would have otherwise seemed quite typical for the unsuspecting Thais and foreign tourists busily going about their day at the Ratchaprasong intersection, in the hectic heart of central Bangkok, where the bomb may already have been placed, and where it would later explode.
Things had been calm, with business-as-usual feel, despite the current state of Thailand’s fraught political situation. People were going in and out to pray at this, the most famous Hindu shrine of Bangkok - containing a statue of the god, Brahma. This is a famous tourist attraction, especially for Thai and Chinese tourists - and few of them would have suspected that such an event could ever occur.
Nevertheless, this tragedy reveals more about Thailand than the tragic fact of the multiple deaths and injuries. Indeed, it says a lot more about what lies beneath the Thai illusion of superficial calm, safety, and notional reconciliation - as one can observe from the circulating blame-game now played-out on the social media (such as Facebook), soon after the incident.
After a decade or more of Thai “colour-code” politics, between the “Red Shirts” (the coalition of supporters of former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and his Phue Thai Party), and the “Yellow-Shirts” (those who constituted the “anti-Thaksin” movement, which, in 2014, transformed into what is now known as the People's Democratic Reform Committee, or PDRC) and the supporters of the Thai military coup d’état, of 2014 (which was led by the National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO) - these latter retain their high hopes of somehow reuniting a schism-riven Thailand.
At a time of national tragedy, the gap between those in this colour spectrum is enlarged rather than narrowed, mainly because of a dearth of much-needed critical thinking. The Thai political divide has significantly contributed to an escalating mentality of self-righteousness and impetuosity within Thai society - through a reflexive belief in the rumours that routinely condemn one’s respective opponents, rather than a regard for more challenging facts, or uncomfortable realities.
It is well understood by those living in places of social strife - and especially by those that are repeatedly and continuously subjected to terrorism - that the consequences go far beyond the immediate incidents, and those most directly affected. Moreover, this is all-too-well understood by terrorist masterminds. So, even if many are essentially opportunistic, others are more calculating than the unsuspecting may want to imagine.
Already, much of the talk has moved over to concerns about the likely impact on Thailand’s tourist industry, which has become increasingly important as a key source of governmental revenue to the current non-democratic ruling military junta that has presided over Thailand, since last year’s coup d'état. The renewed importance of tourism for Thailand is, simply, because of the clear damage that was done to the Thai economy in the months following the sudden, arbitrary ‘suspension’ of the Thai democratic experiment - in relation to which, a foreseeable return now seems rather less than immanent.
And so, although the analysis will continuously monitor and micro-analyse the myriad further effects on a Thai economy, which has, since, been flirting with recession, the fact of an apparent targeting of the shrine, in itself, already indicates that potential plotters may have been really quite sophisticated in their approach.
The recognition of a confluence of critical factors may well indicate - not only to the various potential Thai dissident groups who may be increasingly prepared to act violently, but, also, to all those who are disaffected with the current social-political impasse, and, of course, to the Thai authorities - that the stakes are obviously already high, and are only likely to get higher.
One of the immediate key concerns for Thai tourism will be with regard to Chinese tourists, especially, because the recent, greatly increasing numbers of Chinese - a wave that the Thai authorities will have been banking on. The shrine was popular with foreign visitors generally, and ethnic Chinese, in particular - including many ethnic Chinese from other countries within the region, including Singapore and Malaysia - who often visit the shrine, specifically because of their spiritual beliefs.
All of this will have been well-understood by those that may have perpetrated the bomb-blast, which struck such a prominent and readily accessible, yet unsecured and vulnerable prime tourist attraction. The shrine sits on the corner of one of the primary intersections of commerce, business, and tourism within Thailand, which includes the country’s largest shopping centre, as well as other adjacent flagship shopping centres, and hotels - all in proximity to the blast.
Without even attempting to identify alleged perpetrators, the Thai authorities have been rather quick to claim that this incident is necessarily connected to the prevailing Thai social-political dynamic of heightened political schism and turmoil, of the last decade and a half. It is already implicitly understood by most Thais that any such statements, by extension, allude to the involvement of Thaksin Shinawatra, and his alleged proxies.
Moreover, a determination to insinuate connections, in order to seemingly legitimise one’s mentality, with its typically pre-established conclusions, now permeates the thinking of Thai society. It is saddening to evince such a disregard for a more measured response, for the verifying of determinable facts, and for due process, with the overwhelmingly evident favouring of the aforementioned.
But, to frame events according to the prevailing social-political narrative is, already, more or less the norm for most all Thais - whether they are the well-rehearsed spokespersons of Thai authoritarian officialdom, opportunistic media pundits seeking their audience, or the millions of average citizens who continue to unthinkingly react as they find themselves caught up in the tumult.
This is no way to respect the memories of those whose lives were lost this week, or atone for Thailand's all too apparent collective failings.
Note to Editors:
Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich is available for interviews. Contact Lee Page, Communications Manager at The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255. Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email: email@example.com.
Photo of shrine should be credited to Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich.
Contact Lee Page, Communications Manager at The University of Warwick.
Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255.
Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221.