Religious Dimension in the Minds of Thai Ultra-Royalists
Recently on one Facebook account (called ‘IUV’), a picture showing crowd formation that appears similar to one popular photograph of HM the King holding and talking on a walkie talkie attracted over 66,000 ‘like’. Last week, a red-shirt woman who ‘defamed’ a portrait of the King by her foot was later confronted with a group of ultra-royalist protesters as she was trying to leave Suvarnabhumi Airport for New Zealand where she resides. One of the protest placards read: ‘blasphemy’.
These are but some of the newer manifestations of the increasingly religious dimension of how some ultra-royalist Thais regard the monarchy institution, especially HM the King.
In a country where politicians are often regarded as corrupt and evil, many royalists feel there is a need to inject a sacred dimension into society as opposed to the supposedly evil and profane corrupt and self-serving politicians. The monarchy institution, and particularly the current HM the King, is thus regarded by ultra-royalists as ‘sacred’.
Many ultra-royalists think you cannot criticize God and laws such as the lese majeste and Computer Crimes Act will ensure that few will challenge the discourse of the King being purely good and benevolent.
Today, the King is semi-divine or almost God-like in ultra-royalists’ eyes and Thaksin Shinawatra is evil personified - it’s the vision of the sacred versus the profane.
The debate about freedom of expression often gets conflated with the religious belief in virtuous and morally divine person. When someone suggests that the monarchy institution should no longer be above criticism (that is currently guaranteed through the lese majeste law and Computer Crimes Act), ultra-royalists would typically reply: Why do you want to criticize a good and benevolent person like HM the King?
Their ‘logic’ is that some very good and special people should not be criticized because they are believed to be very good if not saint-like.
To them, people who are supposedly ‘virtuous’ or ‘good’ ought to have this special privilege from being scrutinized or criticized. This is also linked to the belief in the notion of good karma (boon) and reserved power (baramee).
The notion of good and virtuous person is hierarchical, as it stands in opposition (and above) that of bad as well as ordinary people. Besides, the notion of a good person often depends on given social context. A good person in a capitalist world is unlikely to be a good person in a communist society. A good poultry farmer is unlikely to be a good person in the eyes of people who are vegetarian for religious reason.
Calling for freedom of expression, although ideologically driven, is based on the notion of equality under the law, and not on hierarchy and exceptionalism.
The clash of two fundamentally different values is conflated and confusing to many and in a way, it is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are fundamentally different - one based on hierarchy, another, on equality. The belief in a benevolent or divine person ought to be a personal matter, while the struggle for equal rights to freedom of expression, is essentially a public issue.
The clash between those who hold near religious belief in the inviolable nature of the ‘sacred’ monarch and that of belief that is embedded in freedom of speech to criticize the monarchy will unlikely go away anytime soon, however. Both sides will continue to speak in almost different language to the other. The former will defend their ‘surrogate’ religion fastidiously to the end while the latter will unlikely to stop calling for genuine freedom of expression in Thailand.
Nevertheless, if I have to choose between living with ‘benevolence or goodness’ that cannot be scrutinized or criticized or living with ‘evil’ that can be criticized and opposed, I would not hesitate to pick the latter.