PHUKET - Island Paradise Or Terrorism Hotbed?
"Not far from the world-famous tourist beaches of Phuket and Krabi, a violent conflict in southern Thailand appears to be entering a dangerous new phase as Islamist insurgents expand their attacks against local Buddhists to include outsiders entering the Muslim-majority region."So goes the lead sentence in a story which appeared in the international news publication The Wall Street Journal on February 10th, written by James Hookaway.
Most of us living in Phuket understand that the approximate driving distance between the troubled area in Southern Thailand Narathaiwat and our island is over 400 kilometers away. But for Barry in Australia, Wei Long just outside Beijing or Lars about to board a plane in Stockholm the geography lesson might come secondary to alarm bells ringing about their impending trip to holiday terrorism hell in Phuket or Krabi.
This week media reports surfaced about possible planned terrorism attack at the US Consulate in Chiang Mai by groups associated to al-Qaeda and Salafist. While Chiang Mai and Phuket are at opposite ends of the country, mention was made of police alerts in Phuket. Next came an email warning from the US State Department issued by the Embassy in Bangkok.
What is bothersome about the entire matter is the propensity of Western media to lead or connect the Southern Thailand conflict to the relatively sedate tourism areas of Phuket and Krabi. Again the mentality to so easily relegate this country into the third world bargain bin where there remains a vast difference in reporting standards between East and West.
Looking at some horrific violent episodes in the US, was an immediate connection made between these local communities and nearby gateway cities which could be at risk?
December 14, 2012 - Sandy Hook, Conneticut, a 20 year old man armed with military grade assault weapons shot and killed 20 children and 6 adults at a local elementary school. Approximate driving distance from Sandy Hook to New York City - 125 kilometers
July 20, 2012 - Aurora Colorado, a mass shooting at a local movie theatre by a single male kills 12 and injures 58. The gunman is wearing military gear and again carrying assaults weapons. Approximate driving distance from Aurora Colorado to Denver - 15 kilometers
April 19,1995 - Oklahoma City, 168 adults and children died in a bomb blast, the perpetrators of the attack were US citizens who learned about explosives during tenure with the military. When one of the attackers Timothy McVeigh was arrested carrying a weapon. Approximate driving distance from Oklahoma City to Dallas Texas - 330 kilometers
In each of these landmark events of domestic terrorism - New York City, Denver nor Dallas were connected in key media storylines, nor received the attention which the Wall Street Journal has accorded Phuket and Krabi.
Interestingly enough former President George W. Bush resides just outside of Dallas in a residential community and was a strong proponent in initiating a war on terrorism through the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 spurred on by the futile search for weapons of mass destruction. The weapons were never found and the US has found itself embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan every since.
While politicians and the media often find soft targets in the perceived 'third world', they remain timid and stand-offish under the shadow on a powerful gun control lobby and the NRA. American domestic terrorism by gun wielding fanatics is no greater or less a threat to innocent lives than religious or geo-political extremism.
I have to ask the question, what is more risky - waiting in line at the airport in Phuket, Dallas, Denver or New York City?
There is no denying that Asia is not immune to terrorism as those in Bali and Jakarta can attest. But falling into the glitter trap of scare tactics with catchy journalistic headlines is not the answer either.
Meanwhile George W. Bush has never found Sadam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction but if he were really interested in a clear and present threat, he'd take a drive around Dallas and see the open availability of military grade assault rifles which can be purchased by just about anyone. Much of my confusion now comes from who to be more scared of? Terrorists or my own fellow gun totting Americans? Most likely both.
As for just how far is the gap between the legacy-minded entitled old school developed West and new school Asia. The apocalyptic 30 minute blackout at the recent Super Bowl in New Orleans just might have shortened up the yard stick.
To read the Wall Street Journal story CLICK