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Op-Ed Columnist

Thailand Needs Its Own Dream

Bangkok

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Last week's events in Thailand were unique, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the battle for the bullets.

When thinking about the ongoing troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like migratory birds, so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. Migratory birds never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Thailand has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, freedom is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Thailand's ironing board, then freedom is certainly its alarm clock.

When I was in Thailand last June, I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Thailand have no shortage of courage, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Thailand are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Thailand? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap Thailand's leaders to attention. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture these first inklings of a moderate, modern society. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so poorly marked that Thailand will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Bangkok needs to cooperate.

Speaking with a up-and-coming violinist from the large orthodox community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, won tin jin hao, which is a local saying that means roughly, "It is in vain to cast your net where there is no fish."

I don't know what Thailand will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.