At the Foreign
Correspondents Club of Thailand on Thursday evening 10 June 2010 a large
audience turned out to watch a series of videos shot during the May 14th to 19th
period when violence erupted in parts of Bangkok. The panelists were
photographers and cameramen (no women on the panel) who had, often at great
personal risk, shot compelling images. After watching almost one hour of the
events unfold through these images, I had the question as to what to make of
what I saw on the TV monitors.
I suspect that I wasnt
alone in feeling the powerful emotions that images of being dead bodies, the
wounded, soldiers firing M16s and armed demonstrators throwing firecrackers,
Molotov cocktails. There were also images of the Men In Black (MiB), the name
given to a group of men who wore (mostly) black and were armed with handguns or
M16s or other weapons. Those on the panel contradicted the governments claim
that there were 500 hundred such MiB. It is likely to be exceedingly difficult
to find out the exact number, who these mystery were, their affiliations with
outsiders, their connection to the Red Shirt demonstrators, and who financed,
organized and led these men. Or if indeed there were multiple groups of MiB.
These MiB moved like particles in a quantum system. Everyone sought to collapse
the quantum state and measure what was inside the war zone.
Politics in Thailand, as in most
countries, is a tug of war between the past and the future. The constitution and
institutions function as setting the ground rules for the tug of war and assign
referees who show a red card when one side violates the rules. That is the
theory. Nation states arose as way to exercise on sovereignty over geographic
borders. The idea of exercise of that sovereignty as the internal affairs of
states within those borders is an old, established one.
It is hard to let go of the idea
that geographic borders will matter less in the future. Borders are in the
processing of diminishing in importance with collateral consequences for
sovereignty, constitutions and political institutions. Place matters less than
it once did. Place is analogue. We have entered a digital world that, for
communications purposes, makes geographic borders irrelevant.
Who we are, how we feel about ourselves, not to mention how we organize our
life is contingent on what we remember. Without our memory, our world collapses
not unlike a black hole where all information is lost (or at least
Writing fiction is an actively engagement of memory. The characters
memories, the way they are affected and deal with memories is an essential part
of the story. In real life, when there is a trial, a witness is asked to recall
what she or he saw. By recalling events, we engage in memory recall.
The demonstrations have
ended in Bangkok, but the Thai script wars continue. This reflects the fact that
both the government and the Reds Shirts are deeply divided. There is one thing
that binds them. There are certain universal tropes used to silence or dismiss
their critics (Thailand isnt unique in using them). In waging the propaganda
wars, the advantage is to the government as they have more resources to bring to
bear to censor their critics. For example blocking websites for not telling what
they deem to be truth.
There is the rub. The
truth. How it is told and who tells it and what is to be done with those who
seek to tell a different truth? Different truths like ambiguous heroes can cause
confusion. Thus the official justification for bans, censorship and
The intention of this blog has been
to connect reality with what is loosely called crime fiction. The reality
checking asks: does a novel which purports to be an authentic representation of
social, political and economic conditions in which the characters find
themselves match the facts on the ground? Or are the facts wrong, twisted,
biased, or otherwise subject to dispute.
Swedish crime author Henning
Mankell became part of the Israeli commando raid on 6 ships loaded with relief
supplies destined to breach the blockade on Gaza. In an early morning raid,
commandoes were dropped by helicopter onto the boats. Mankell happened to be on
one of the boats (Swedish ship Sofia), though it appears no one on his boat was
killed. But they were all arrested, including Mankell. He has been deported from
Israel and is in England where the Guardian reports, The bestselling Swedish
crime writer Henning Mankell today accused Israel of murder, piracy and
kidnapping after describing how the aid ship he was travelling on was seized by
Israeli forces this week.
The subject of the panel was:
Thailand in the Eyes of Others. The FCCT described the evening as
Thailand has been through
some tumultuous months with scenes that have both horrified and bemused many.
The world has drunk a heady cocktail of ramwongs, snipers, firebugs, rogue
generals, blood-pouring rituals, live firing, burning tyres, APCs, black
militia/magic/smoke, terrorism warrants, VIP prisons, dead journalists, travel
advisories, Kevlar, empty streets, failed compromises, broken deadlines,
government statements, razor wire, outraged letters to the editor, burnt-out
buildings and disputed body counts.
On Friday I will
post a blog titled: Henning Mankell: When a Crime Writer becomes part of the
Here's a preview:
Mankell has become part of the Israeli commando story. The
reports that Mankell has urged global sanctions on Israel.
Telegraph continues with this quote from Mankell: "I can promise there was
not a single weapon aboard the ships," he told an Expressen reporter who was
returning to Sweden with him after the writer had been deported by
Israel. ... Read More>>
I have been in a
conversation with author Jonathan Hayes on Facebook and others have joined our
discussion about filters in book publishing and what they may look like in the
Ebooks and epublishing has
many people talking about leveling the playing field. The adult equivalent of
No Child Left Behind idea that allows everyone to become an author. To start
with first principles, in Canada and America people have a history of
"democratization of expression. There has been censorship in the past but in
reality people today can pretty write whatever they want.
A good cover attracts
people to a book. Cover art has a new life in the digital world where so much of
the cutting edge in publishing is happening.
Ebooks are greatest game
changer in publishing to have happened in the past several years. Physical
bookstores are slowly being replaced in the digital world of booksellers. These
books are made from paper. They are electronic. They are called ebooks. By now
most people will have heard about Kindle, iphone, ipad, Nook, Sony and other
readers that allow readers to download books and read them from a computer or
smart phone. Millions of people have bought one of these devices and have
downloaded books on them. Kindle is the clear winning horse so far in this
One feature of the current
climate in Thailand is that rather than trying to see another sides point of
view, people seeking such an examination are shouted down. The heightened state
of emotion translates as either you are on one side or the other. If you try to
seek nuance you may be attacked as being pro-government or pro-red, depending on
what incident, statement, rumour, or policy you choose to examine.
This is a difficult time
for free speech. The only speech recognized as free is that speech which
supports the side of the argument. The reality is that free speech means you dig
into the facts and circumstances and try to keep the emotions out of that
search. Perhaps what has happened is so close, raw, and open that even though
fires are out, the anger, hatred and outrage continue to burn.
Introspection is a valuable asset
in the governed as well as in those who govern them. Introspection along with
consensus is a good definition of how the engines of democracy work. But in 2010
introspection and consensus are threatened with extinction and this is happening
just before the public conversation that needs to be had if people are going to
move on. Otherwise we will risk being permanently stranded in the dead zone
between existential nihilism and sophism with no peaceful exit.
For the last week Ive lived near
one of the front line areas in the conflict between the Government/Military and
the Red Shirted protesters. On 15th, 16th and 17th May I walked along Rama IV,
filming and talking with Red shirt supporters, protesters, onlookers. It was a
mixed bag of people of varying degrees of commitment to the Red causewhatever
that might beas the policies and principles appear to be fractured among a
number of factions. There are those wishing to reinstall Thaksin as prime
minister. Others are bound by a larger social justice and equality
On Monday 17th May I
returned to film and interview people whod gathered in and along Rama IV Road
and the Expressway area. By the third day of fighting, it was less frightening
being on the street. It is strange how we adapt to what is a dangerous,
uncertain environment. The first thing people learn is to distinguish the sound
of firecrackers and from the sound of bullets coming from shotguns, M16s, M79s
and AK47s weapons. These weapons as well as the firecrackers were used at some
stage in during the street conflict. I didnt see any war weapons on the
17th May. That doesnt mean they Red side wasnt armed. It means I
personally didnt see them.
I am writing this 15 minutes before
the curfew starts on Wednesday 19 May 2010. This morning I awoke to gunfire. The
crack of an M16, and if you know that sound, then you understand this isnt the
way to start your day. This is the fourth day I have gone to sleep with the
sound of gunfire in the background and woken up to the same sound.
It has been a long day. The phone
never stopped; neither did emails from readers around the world. For their
support and thoughts I am grateful. I appreciate your concern for my safety.
The SET was torched by
demonstrators in the late afternoon. After 30 minutes fire trucks (3 in number)
came screaming down Asoke. Demonstrators met them with stones. They retreated. A
few minutes later the sizeable crowd started to run as rumours of the army
By Sunday the amount of small arm
fire on Rama IV had increased from the day before. The scene was similar to
Saturday. Groups of people who had gathered inside shophouse doorways, along the
road for about one kilometer, and the hardcore group of Red shirted protesters
who manned the barricades and kept the tyres rolling toward the front
16th, and 17th May for around one and half hours I filmed
and interviewed people who had gathered along Rama IV Road from the Rachadapiesek or Klong Toey intersection to Soi Ngam Dupli.
As the authorities tightened the noose around Rachadaprasong, a second front
opened along Rama IV, including a makeshift stage and speakers, microphones, and
I am not a professional
photographer. Indeed I am not even a very good amateur photographer. What Ive
tried to do is capture the mood of people who have gathered around one of the
main sites where Reds and the Security Forces have clashed. People in the
outside world can glimpse for themselves some of the faces in the crowdin other
words what do the people on the scene look likeand the chaos surrounding the
street barricades. Each day a community of onlookers have gathered drawn by the
spectacle of violence, fire, and explosions.