'Political racism' must be ended before it's too late
When it comes to the ongoing political rift, what Thai society is facing is nothing less than mutual political racism.
By political racism I mean total discrimination against those with differing political views who - once categorised as belonging to the opposite political camp - induce a sense of hatred and discrimination.
Three key issues appear to be deployed to help identify whether one in Thailand belongs to the opposite political camp or not. These are one's attitude towards the monarchy and lese majeste law, towards Thaksin Shinawatra, and towards the 2006 military coup.
If you oppose the lese majeste law you are automatically branded as red shirt and anti-monarchist. You are also almost without exception branded as red shirt too if you were against the 2006 military coup which ousted Thaksin - while if you had supported it, then you are branded as yellow shirt, multi-colour shirt or a supporter of the Democrat Party.
For people infected with political racism, it is as if there exist only two political camps in Thailand. These people want to reassure themselves that the current political struggle is between good versus evil and under such a crude dichotomy, there is not room for diversity beyond the two camps.
When one is conveniently categorised as being "the enemy", the sense of political racism ensures that the classified person is not to be trusted or treated equally. This makes it easier for such people to react to their opponents. It makes their world easy to comprehend. It is rather difficult for these people to live with irony, ambivalence and the absence of a clear-cut notion of good versus evil - of us versus them. These people who succumb to political racism also tend to believe there exists only one correct political way - their way.
Deep down, political racism and the accompanying labelling of someone as a political friend or foe, enables these people to suspend their ability to listen to the reasoning of their opponents. Since they have branded their opponents as enemy and evil, there is no need to listen to those who think differently, period.
When that occurs, the hope that there could be any meaningful dialogue or debate ceases to be possible. Learning about different points of view is thus replaced by the reinforcement of hatred and discriminatory views. Reasonable exchange is almost impossible when you do not trust the person speaking to you.
This writer still thinks however that there are many Thais in various political camps who have not totally succumbed to political racism. These people will have to do more to constructively engage and exchange with people who think differently, be it within their group or outside.
They must resist attempts by those totally influenced by political racism to stereotype others as either saint or evil, and make more room for the understanding that virtually all camps have made mistakes or committed errors over the past six years - that learning to peacefully and democratically compete and co-exist with those who think differently is a major challenge in today's Thailand.
Political racism must be resisted at all costs if Thailand is to avoid heading toward political annihilation. More open-minded members of all political camps must seek to build bridges and dialogue instead of repeating the dominant discourse of political hatred.
If you cannot bear to listen to the extremists among the red, yellow or multi-colour shirts, try to seek an exchange and forge acquaintance with the more open-minded members of those political groupings instead.
Extremists with political racism and hatred have a way of making their noises heard louder than others - but it's time people tried to rein them in with more measured political voices before the only political space left in Thailand is that of hatred and distrust.