Era of the cowardly terrorist gains pace

Theresa May put it succinctly. The British prime minister called the bombers of our age “cowards”. She’s absolutely right.

This is the Era of the Cowardly Terrorist. In a world rapidly spinning out of control, we are being subject to more and more extreme acts of violence that are as deadly as they are pathetic.

This week was particularly bad. It was worse in Thailand because we received a double whammy. We didn’t just reel from the British attack; we had our own incident of spineless violence with the bombing of Phramongkutklao Hospital on Monday. It briefly made page one of the world’s media until the news of the suicide bomber at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester later that evening.

Does it get any more pathetic than this? Grown men detonating bombs — and themselves — in hospitals and at pop concerts? Such is the era we are living in; terrorist cells so cowardly and contemptible that they resort to maiming hospital workers and children to push their points.

As of this column going to press, we don’t know the culprit behind the hospital attack, but all eyes are on the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), who want those three Deep South provinces to secede, or some antimilitary political or social group.

If indeed the BRN — or any other anti-government organisation for that matter — wanted to make a statement on the third anniversary of Thailand’s coup d’etat, why didn’t it blow up Parliament House? Why not set off a bomb in front of the prime minister’s house, or blow up a military statue? That would have certainly driven their point home.

Why didn’t they do it? No need to answer, dear reader. I’ll tell you. They’re not clever enough.

Such an act would require way too much effort in circumventing the authorities. The perpetrators of the hospital bomb aren’t well coordinated enough to mount an attack that would even remotely be as brave as that. In craven terrorist circles, that’s in the too-hard basket, and remember … this is the Era of the Cowardly Terrorist. Best leave it to the big boys to carry out such acts, if indeed any big boys still exist.

It’s much easier to leave a bomb in a hospital.

Even I could probably do that. What’s so difficult about shoving a bomb into a flower vase and spiriting it into a hospital waiting room, full of patients with their families and nurses and hospital staff — especially in a hospital where nine of the 15 CCTV cameras are broken?

Another important question to ask is: Exactly what were they planning to achieve? Was it to shame our military government? If so, then they get even more stupid points than we gave them at the top of this column. Like you, it broke my heart to see pictures of nurses, hospital staff and patients with blood running down their faces and lying on stretchers. I don’t like some of the things the government is doing, but by god, do you really think by maiming nurses I’m going to team up with you?

The Thai hospital blast injured 24 people. Far more tragic was the Manchester Arena explosion at the Ariana Grande show, with sad Islamic State rushing to claim responsibility for what was clearly the work of a radicalised lone-wolf whacko. So this 22-year-old college dropout grows a long beard, starts wearing flowing robes and keeps to himself, becoming intoxicated with the violence that can be so easily found on the net, and often perpetrated by the media itself. One night he blows himself up along with 22 kids and parents.

Like the terrorists of Thailand, this guy wasn’t courageous or clever enough to really take a stand. He didn’t blow himself up outside Parliament or Big Ben. That would be way too difficult. Instead, he chose a stadium full of teen girls leaving a pop concert because let’s face it, killing eight-year-old girls really promotes your cause for a radical Islamised world.

This is the era in which we live; vast swathes of narcissists yearning for “likes” on Facebook, and many not getting them. The ostracised get ideas. The mix of unemployment, testosterone, social rejection, radical religion and sexual frustration leads to some choosing to strap bombs onto their backs and wreaking havoc for the sake of notoriety. Never before has it been so easy for a lunatic to garner fame. It has reached a point where one no longer has to be even brave.

That’s the problem, too, in Thailand’s South, where bombs go off on a daily basis in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. Once again, let us stress the point: their targets are teachers, monks and children, in that order, suggesting the perpetrators are humans in name only.

What kind of terrorist targets those groups as opposed to, say, politicians? I am using the word “terrorist” myself because, as I have said repeatedly in this column, in the local media they are called “insurgents”. That’s because successive governments have avoided the use of the word “terrorists” since, well, that’s a pretty strong word isn’t it and the whole world might turn and watch us if we call them that. And besides, we don’t want to offend the insurgents.

I have been here long enough to witness successive governments cracking down on the violence with the help of the armed forces. I have also seen successive governments hoist white flags and announce high-level peace talks with the terrorists, insurgents, BRN … whatever.

Nothing works. Crackdowns fail. Outpourings of love are futile. One of the most absurd government initiatives of more than 10 years ago had the entire country folding paper birds as a sign of peace. It became a national obsession — millions and millions of the birds were hauled into military airplanes and dropped over the three provinces. Unfortunately the planes couldn’t fly too low as originally planned for fear of being shot down by ground-to-air missiles. The ensuing litter problem was horrendous, but it seemed such a good idea at the time.

I don’t think the answer to the southern problem can be found in paper airplanes, olive branches or the armed forces. But we do know the root cause. It is the adults of the region who take otherwise normal children and poison their minds with bigotry and hate, shrouded in the name of religion, right when those kids hit puberty. Rural boys who can’t be educated can end up under the spell of charismatic terrorists with promises of holding big machine guns or, even better, strapping bombs to their backs and deflowering virgins in heaven after you’ve acted out God’s will. You can only be stupid to believe in that.

Let’s stop calling them insurgents and start calling them terrorists of the worst kind, not because of their wanton violence but because of their base cowardice. The latest progression of this cowardice is letting off a bomb in a hospital. By doing so, our collective humanity just dropped a notch.

As they become more and more cowardly, the rest of us need to become more and more defiant. I sympathise with Ariana Grande, who is clearly traumatised, but what a pity she didn’t put on a concert the following night just to show the radical lunatics that we won’t be beaten.

Similarly, if I am unfortunate enough to fall ill this week, I’m heading straight to Phramongkutklao Hospital to see a doctor. Humanity will not, and cannot, lie down to cowardice and stupidity. We need to retaliate with education and defiance, for the alternative is unthinkable. The gloves are off; it’s time to deal our Cowardly Terrorists the ultimate sucker punch.