Forget the superpowers, we need to pursue reformSubmitted by prachatai on Fri, 24/02/2012 - 13:44
They are not shouting "Death to America!" yet, unlike some people in Afghanistan and Iran, but more Thai ultra-royalists have over the past few weeks become rather convinced that Imperial America is behind an alleged attempt to abolish the Thai monarchy.
The yellow-shirt media such as the ASTV Manager daily or its satellite TV channel are rife with such conspiracy theories and they believe that much that is wrong with the current political divide is due to America's interference behind the scenes, through its funding of NGOs and alleged support for the red-shirt movement.
One well-intended ultra-royalist, whom I have known for over a decade, insisted to me a few days ago when I ran into him that the red shirts and people who seek to reform the lese-majeste law are either fooled or funded by America with the twin goals of US domination over the Thai economy and politics and the abolition of the royal institution.
In what was nearly a monologue cataloguing the "evils of America", he then kindly advised me to not fall into "the trap" and said what is needed in Thailand now is unity and not the conflicts that we have witnessed over the past half decade. He said the loss of freedom of some people detained under lese-majeste law is nothing comparable to the potential loss of Thailand's national and economic sovereignty to the US.
While my view on America's role abroad is nuanced and complex, he will have to try harder to come up with irrefutable and concrete evidence to convince and convert me. The whole conspiracy notion is just too loony to be true, though I didn't say that to him.
America, still the world's leading superpower, has an undeniably tainted record in its foreign relations - or rather foreign domination and subversions.
Look at the deaths and sufferings in Afghanistan or Iraq until today, and you can see why many fair-minded persons would disapprove of America's meddling in foreign lands. Nearer to home, read the history of the Philippines and how it became, for half a century, a colony of America through betrayal and the bloody repression of revolts. And what of the Vietnam War or America's support of the military regimes here in Thailand to dictators like Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat during the Cold War?
Yes, Thais need to be wary of America. (Sometimes I wonder how many CIA agents are sipping Singha beer in Patpong or Soi Cowboy.) If you read books like the late historian Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States", you will know what I mean.
Thais have to keep in mind that America is not alone, however, and China is increasingly becoming a leading proponent of hegemony in our region and beyond. Yet most of these ultra-royalists are rather cosy with China and not bothered by what's happening in Xinjiang or Tibet or beyond.
Those who are distrustful of America would do well to be distrustful of China and other big powers. One should separate the subversive role of some superpowers from the ordinary folks from those nations, however.
And back to the issue of domestic political reform, such as the drive to amend the lese-majeste law in order to make it less draconian, we must make it clear that we cannot allow some people to cite fear of foreign interference to stop us from taking whatever reform steps we need to do to make Thailand more democratic and free.
As long as many people here in Thailand are not free to speak their minds on the royal institution in a critical manner, as long as a handful of Thai elite still disproportionately dominates the economy, politics and society, the struggle will have to continue - albeit with mindfulness of what some superpowers are capable of doing.