Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lese-Majesty in Thailand

Recently the lese-majesty laws of Thailand were in the news again, the specific case not being very important in the context of this discussion -a yellow shirt repeated something a red shirt said and now both are in trouble- but it prompted me to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. The “world” media really needs to stop picking on Thailand. It is really becoming ridiculous and, personally, I am sick to death of it. Thailand has problems like any other country but the monarchy nor even anything related to the monarchy is not among them. The lese-majesty laws of Thailand are probably the most well-known in the world -and they shouldn’t be. Think about it; how many times have you heard a news story concerning lese-majesty laws that was NOT about Thailand? I didn’t think so. Thailand is not the only country that has laws like this, even many European countries have similar laws but they are rarely enforced and certainly not when it comes to monarchs. Poland, Germany and Switzerland are republicans with laws against insulting the President. Monarchies have them on the books as well but in the United Kingdom no one has been prosecuted under the lese-majesty laws since 1715. In Denmark no one has ever been prosecuted for lese-majesty. The only recent case in The Netherlands involved a man who made sexually threatening remarks about the Queen directly to a police officer and the only recent case in Spain involved a magazine that printed a cartoon of the Prince and Princess of the Asturias engaged in a sexual act on their front page. Obviously, these were cases of people wishing to cause trouble.

Furthermore, most Islamic countries have strict laws against any speech which insults or displays irreverence toward holy teachings, holy persons, Allah or the Prophet. Yet, when anyone is prosecuted for violating these ordinances, it rarely makes the news in western countries and when they do it is usually because pre-existing tensions have caused a fixation on a particular Islamic country by the media. However, it seems that whenever anyone is ever charged with or prosecuted for lese-majesty in Thailand it always makes the news and is used to portray the Kingdom of Thailand in a negative light. Other countries have laws restricting speech about religious or political figures but laws which restrain people from speaking disrespectfully of monarchs, it seems, are a special case and something that should not be tolerated. Why else do foreign media make such a big deal about this law being invoked in Thailand on each and every occasion? It is an anti-monarchy prejudice at work, pure and simple. Not long ago, in the United States, a small western town put on a parade that included an actor making fun of President Obama. No one went to jail of course but the Secret Service was called in and everyone involved was thoroughly investigated. But royals are supposed to be ridiculed in the minds of these people and they will be first to cry “tyranny” at the slightest effort to restrict them.

I have often said, when asked about this issue in the past, that if you are in Thailand and go around speaking derogatorily about HM the King, the lese-majesty law will be the least of your worries. You will be wishing for the police to show up and arrest you just to save you from the beating your likely to take from the ordinary people who admire and revere their beloved King and would not tolerate anyone defaming him no matter what laws existed about it. Of course, that in itself is something alien to most western countries. The leftist media elites particularly cannot even fathom the idea of a people being so devotedly loyal to their monarch that they would take great personal offense at any disrespectful words being directed at him. Mocking and ridiculing royalty has become so common in the west that it is simply expected at this point. That is a shame. Not only is it shameful, it is harmful and Thailand is actually quite correct to keep (and enforce) lese-majesty laws.

The King of Thailand is, of course, a constitutional monarch. His actual authority is restricted in many ways, yet, he has been able to play an invaluable part in the political affairs of his country because he is so widely respected and revered. He does not need the power to command when a simple suggestion can have the same effect. During critical times of crisis for Thailand, the King has been able to call together opposing factions and compel them to step back from the brink of violence for the good of the country. How was he able to do this? He could not force anyone to do anything but because the vast majority of the people love and respect their King political elites and military leaders alike recognize that it would be very unwise to disregard his wishes. In this way, the King of Thailand has proven that a monarch does not always need sweeping political powers if he is respected and if his position is respected and revered by all of his people. In my view, this is exactly how a constitutional monarchy should work. The King is the source of unity and common agreement and the embodiment of the nation as a whole and as such no slander or disrespectful words or deeds toward him should be tolerated.

In virtually every modern monarchy the reigning monarch is expected to be a national symbol and a source of unity, a figurehead that everyone can get behind and support regardless of political faction or party. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. It should work. After all, if a monarch has no power to influence or enact legislation, there is no legitimate, practical reason for any faction to have a problem with them. They are supposed to be a living symbol of the nation as a whole, its history and culture and if you find something so vague as the nation as a whole objectionable, you’re probably what would be classically defined as a traitor. However, we know that many people still do object to this; they’re called republicans and they will ridicule and verbally attack the monarch in any way they can in order to advance their agenda. They are not punished for this and feel not the slightest guilt in the hypocrisy of using the very rights and freedoms their monarch provides them to attack the monarchy itself. By not enforcing laws that protect the dignity of the monarchy and allowing anyone to mock and ridicule the sovereign the monarch is robbed of their ability to stand as a figure of national unity. The Kingdom of Thailand understands this but relatively few in the west seem to.

The modern constitutional monarch is an utterly harmless figure. They are legally prevented from doing harm to anyone. They cannot enact legislation that would be detrimental to anyone, they cannot have anyone arrested and they cannot command anyone to do anything against their will. The governments can do all of that in the name of the monarch of course but the monarch himself or herself cannot. I would argue that this also denies them the ability to do as much good as they should be able to do but the point here is that they can do none harm. Therefore, there is no legitimate reason why anyone should have a “right” to mock and ridicule them. Their purpose is to be symbolic, to be completely above all factions and arguments and to be a source of unity. This works in Thailand very well and when there is a crisis the monarch is able to play the vital role of mediator to sort out potentially dangerous problems. Yet, in the west, this is often much more difficult if not impossible because the monarch is allowed to be a figure of fun, the subject of a crude punch line or the object of ridicule. Thailand should not be criticized for their lese-majesty laws. They should, in fact, be emulated.

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