Thursday 12 April 2007

Becoming persona non grata in Thailand

Most High Men

Now obviously this is skirting the realms of the unspeakable, untouchable and the incredible. Whilst I do have respect for monarchies and they do need to maintain an air of mystique about them, it becomes a bit much when these mere mortals who have assumed great power on earth get venerated as demi-gods and are accorded sacred virtues of holy unapproachable idols.

A typical scenario has been played out in Thailand where the much revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej Rama IX and ruler of over 60 years has been so feted.

An inebriated Swiss man resident in Thailand for over 10 years allowed his alcohol to get the better of him and went about defacing pictures commemorating the 79th birthday of the king.

That basically is vandalism in any general crime and punishment regime for which there should be some public order sanction.

Insulting the king

This however takes an interesting twist when the statute books contain a law that pertains to insulting a king, denigrating the name of a nation and identity or creating caricatures of seemingly revered figures of tradition or religion.

So, back in Thailand, the Swiss gets 10 years imprisonment for defacing pictures of the king, one does wonder what would have happened if he had defaced the statue of the king or worse still, gotten close to the king as to shout insults at the king.

In the 21st Century, it does not augur well for such societies to confer unassailable mystique and infallibility of any person to the point of benevolent deification.

It is shameful that one cannot criticise the king even constructively for the fear of overbearing lèse majesté laws that restrict free speech and curtail free expression thus protecting of some air of importance, dare I say, delusions of heavenly grandeur.

Taking offence unnecessarily

I do not think the critique of any person of importance, the defacement of a representation of a potentate or the refusal to genuflect to a monarch should constitute an offence, those who intend to be slighted can by their your will so be slighted but not by making an atrocious law to create an offence of the event.

One must not forget that royal influence was exerted in encouraging a military putsch that ousted a democratically elected regime that had quite a following amongst the Thai poor, the military rulers however have been cack-handed in handling the economy and made such of fuss of outlawing You-Tube for hosting material that made fun of the king.

Wasting the time of the king

In the end, the Swiss man received a royal pardon which is commendable but the situation is on the whole worsened because an inconsequential event in a Thailand backwater by a drunken foreigner went on to gain international prominence requiring the king exercise a prerogative because of a law that really should be struck off the books of any modern nation.

How this differs from the Turkish laws of insulting Turkishness or the legacy of Ataturk and the Muslim reaction to the Mohammedan cartoons with the fatwas that ensued would make interesting debate.

One suspects this is unlike other rulers who are cellophane skinned that they cannot brook any dissent and it is simply about courtiers trying to maintain the suffocating air of mystique around his majesty and by doing so heaping cause for opprobrium on the Thai people.

I guess these means I am persona non grata in Thailand.


Sensitive heads of state

Cellophane skinned lion hearts

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