Bangkok bomb is testing Thailand's collective strength

Bangkok bomb is testing Thailand's collective strength
Experts investigate the Erawan shrine at the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok, Thailand, August 18, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

We were saddened and we couldn't believe it. But as the shock dies down, we start to wonder if we should have been shocked in the first place.

If certain human traits have faded over the centuries, the tendency to use violence to push for a goal is not one of them.

We have kidded ourselves in many ways, not least over the notion that we are now civilised and noble and could never ever do anything like this.

An example of our grand delusion is the use of the word "inhuman" to describe the Ratchaprasong bombing.

To begin with, no animal would commit such a cruel act. In other words, terrorism as we know it is "all too human". When a lion's stomach is full, the beast will let a herd of deer walk by without even taking a look.

It won't kill an innocent animal just to make the others afraid.

Terrorism is a human invention. It's designed to fulfil or advance political, ideological or religious purposes.

And terrorism doesn't need an empty stomach as a spur. All it takes are fears that only humans can feel, or paranoia that only humans can have, or ambitions that only humans can harbour, or blind faith that only humans keep.

To kill for survival is animalistic, but to commit an atrocity is human.

Terrorism has evolved with time and, contrary to mainstream beliefs, it's no longer limited to a single group or tribe.

There are brazen, old-fashioned acts of terrorism and there are modern stealth attacks, designed to deceive or cover up the true identities of the real perpetrators.

We don't know who was responsible for the Erawan Shrine bombing, but it seems to fit the category of "secret" or "subtle" terrorism.

It obviously was not meant to say "You are being punished for so and so." It was designed to destroy credibility, spawn doubts and sow seeds of fear. In short, anyone could have done it.

The bomb attack has succeeded in pitting people against one another. Many have reacted in accordance with their political or ideological views.

The heavy loss of life stirred a rare moment of national solidarity, but the big picture is that the question of "Who did it?" still matters, whereas it shouldn't have at all.

Terrorism has thrived not just because it's easy to get away with, but also because there are always people who consider it a "necessary" means. When the others do it, it's terrorism. It's anything but when we have to do the same.

Ideological differences have given rise to the concept of "collateral damage".

The years of Thai political turmoil abound with examples of people's hypocrisy over violent acts and loss of life.

While we can't be certain that the Ratchaprasong explosion was related to domestic politics, a blame game is already in full swing and being played out along ideological lines.

It simply shows terrorism's biggest strength, which is its power to make people view the deaths of innocent people through the distorting lens of ideology.

Terrorist acts can also reveal the best in us. People rushed to donate blood last week. Other help was mobilised. The artwork of schoolchildren adorned the Erawan Shrine.

Ultimately, we pray that Thailand will get stronger and more united in the wake of the bombing. But for that to happen, we need to overcome the most devastating aspect of terrorism - its dark divisive quality, which hides beneath the surface.

Thailand's economy has been hit, and so has the political image of many people. Old wounds have been reopened. Political reform is in more doubt now than ever. National reconciliation has been all but blown away.

As well as killing innocent worshippers, the bomb also destroyed, discredited and undermined. Mistrust, the starting point of all things evil in the world, has been amplified.

We might draw a contrast with the 2011 flood disaster, which, for all the damage it caused, united people, recreated trust and dignified many.

Natural disasters strengthen our souls, whereas their man-made equivalents tend to have the opposite effect. However, we must never let the Ratchaprasong atrocity do that to us. While many things lie in tatters, we must make sure our souls and conscience hold together.

We have shown our collective strength in the aftermath of the shrine bombing, but the terrorists, knowing us so well, must have expected that. Wars against terrorism are long, and the path is always strewn with implicit and explicit invitations beckoning us towards the dark side.

Terrorists are patient, and they must be hoping that the human nobility displayed after the Ratchaprasong bomb will not hold. The human trait to terrorise always lies in wait, and evolves with time in the process.

And few places are better than divided Thailand for terrorism to display its ability to defy the human conscience.

Taking human lives is not terrorism's victory; taking human souls is. We can never let it happen. It's as simple as that.

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