Opinion: How fragile are your beliefs if you have to rely on thugs to reinforce them?

On Wednesday, video clips were released online which showed a group of people wearing yellow shirts attacking high school students and pro-democracy protestors who were en route to join a rally at Ramkhamhaeng University.  

The group of yellow shirts were later identified as members of a vocational student group, Acheewa Chuay Chart, and middle-aged supporters of the government.

They claimed that a group of high school students had provoked them first.

Let that sink in for a second, a group of middle-aged were so enraged by the words of underaged high school girls and first-year university students that they had to attack them.

One of the pro-democracy protestors, a 19-year old female university student, was injured when one of the middle-aged men threw a speaker at her leg, fracturing it.

Possibly worse than the attack, worse than the justification by the group of thugs, was the government’s response to the entire ordeal.

“We are not saying that one group is more wrong than the other but such incident would not have happened if there was no provocation and the use of profanity in the first place,” said Kannanat Patornsaubnukool, the government’s emergency response center spokesman.

Thursday’s defense of the thuggery by the government practically affirmed their affiliation. There were also these pictures showing the education minister at an event with one of the ringleaders. (He’s not the only government official seen with this group.)

Of course, the minister has denied that he knew the person.

Nothing New

For students of history, we have seen these tactics before, this savagery before, this barbarism before. They haven’t always worn yellow shirts.

In Germany, they wore brownshirts, in Italy they wore black. In Tsarist Russia, they moved and blended in with the population. The Bolshevik ‘red guard’ would commit murders, assassinations, infiltrate other organizations and ruin their reputations – all in the name of their ideology.

The make-up of these militias was similar. They were never-do-wells, thugs, petty thieves, delinquents, and common criminals employed by their paymasters to enforce an ideology that was too weak to stand up on its own. When they outlived their usefulness they were discarded, left to become whatever they were before the movement started.

(In Thailand, we’ve seen their like before too. In 1976, they were the people beating lynched corpses with a stick while others looked on.)

We thought we had outlived this barbarism, this uncivilized playbook taken from the darkest chapters of human history. But yesterday, it was there for all the world to see.

The more important question that must now be asked is how fragile is the ideology that these so-called yellow shirts were defending that such tactics had to be resorted to.

When the fascists, Bolsheviks, and Nazis resorted to these methods, it was during their formative years when everything was uncertain and a militia was necessary to impose their views onto others or scare them into not saying anything.

Is that what was happening yesterday? Has the yellow-shirt ideology has become so fragile, so starkly exposed to the world, that those defending it must deploy hoodlums to intimidate little school girls?

It certainly seems that way. And it certainly seems that way for this government and this conservative culture. There has only been one side that has to bus in supporters to confront protesters, only one side that made it mandatory for civil servants to attend a parade.

But Thailand is more sophisticated now, the world is more sophisticated now. These tactics, whether banning books or employing thugs or attacking little girls, are a thing of the past. We see through it.

The prime minister and his paymasters wear no clothes and all the country and much of the world is laughing.

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