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A new reason to jail Thais for thought crime?
Publication Date : 16-10-2013
The autocratic and patronising nature of the Yingluck Shinawatra administration surfaced for all to see last Tuesday (October 8) when the Cabinet approved in principle draft-legislation for the protection of so-called "intangible cultural heritage".
Besides the usual budget related matters, where provinces will be able to seek a subsidy from the Cultural Promotion Department for the protection of their intangible cultural heritage, the proposed bill's Article 40 seeks to punish people whose words or actions using intangible heritage are found "to offend the monarchy, religion, national security, as well as public order and morality".
Violators could face up to two years in prison and/or a fine up to 50,000 baht (US$1,600).
There's also a catch in that those who exercise the law, if passed, also have the power to interpret what may constitute the intangible cultural heritage that needs to be protected.
This is a zany bill for a country claiming to be a democracy and while this government has refused to touch on the controversial and draconian lese majeste law, it's now seeking to create more reasons for jailing people for thought crime.
The government seems to not understand that forcing people to respect the culture of the monarchy will inevitably result in resentment, if not resistance, as already seen in the vibrant anti-lese-majeste-law movement.
Respect and appreciation, be it for religion, culture or monarchy cannot be forced. They must be earned. Forcing respect on something or someone is not respect but coercion.
What an open society needs is different and diverse interpretation of culture, religion, nation and the monarchy institution. To force everyone to think alike about these institutions will only turn our country into a big cage of like-minded people. And like-minded people can hardly be relied on to provide alternative |thinking.
Is this what the government wants for Thailand?
Quality education encourages students to think for themselves and to apply reasoning. Such a law will however encourage Thai citizens to stick to the approved interpretation of these intangible cultural assets. I don't see how it will make Thais smarter but I can recognise how it will make us dumber. If anything, Buddhism in Thailand, for example, needs to be subjected to greater scrutiny and criticism, not less. The same must be said of the positive-only view of nationalism and the monarchy institution.
There's no place for dictatorial law in a self-proclaimed democratic society. Anything that would further limit the already self-censored climate of Thai society on monarchy issues must be opposed. We don't need another law to make people fearful of what to say about national security or Buddhism - and such a law can be easily abused towards an autocratic end by the powers-that-be.
Last but not least, all of us concerned citizens should ask ourselves what will such a law, if passed, do to the Thai culture it claims to be protecting? I can't help but wonder if this is an attempt to preserve intangible autocratic culture. Perhaps the premier and her Cabinet think such culture is very Thai indeed and is in urgent need of being preserved at all cost.
Culture, intangible or tangible, cannot be frozen, for by freezing it you kill its very vibrancy. Forcing people to be respectful and say only good things about intangible Thai cultural assets will only succeed in creating tangible damage to the very fabric of Thai culture itself.