Submitted on Fri, 3 May 2013 - 08:51 AM
Thai readers be warned: You are about to read a commentary penned by an alleged "Thai with a Cambodian heart", a "traitor".
This is not a self-description but something branded upon the writer by fellow Thais who found my recent comments on Twitter unacceptable, sacrilegious even.
All I did was to state that Thais should be fair and decent in dealing with the dispute with Cambodia over the 4.6 square kilometres of land around Preah Vihear Temple along the border, and to urge Thais to accept with grace whatever ruling is made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Apparently, there are ultra-nationalist Thais who support the idea that if the ICJ ruling, scheduled for later this year, goes in favour of Thailand, then they will gladly accept it. However, if the verdict benefits Cambodia, then they will not shy away from calling for military action to defend what they believe to be, without an iota of doubt, part of Thailand.
Precisely when being fair and decent to your neighbour became a treacherous act, I do not know. But such has been the situation since many ultra-nationalists and nationalists began to celebrate and praise the head of the Thai legal delegation, Ambassador Virachai Plasai, and his team, particularly Thai-hired Romanian lawyer Alina Miron.
This has been accompanied by relentless vilification of and condescending remarks about Cambodia and its people on social media sites. As the legal representatives of both countries accuse one another of lying, ultra-nationalist Thais will not allow any shred of doubt that perhaps we may not be totally right - or even right at all - to be entertained. The narrow notion of nationalism requires that people see foreign countries on the other side of the border as innately evil.
It's as if we cannot love Thailand without hating our neighbours, particularly Cambodia and Myanmar. If one can only love one's country by looking down on and vilifying other nations, it means that there's probably nothing much one can be proud of in one's own society.
True patriotism requires being fair to others, and appreciating the value of criticism of one's society, for this is how society can learn and improve itself.
Ultra-nationalists risk stalling social progress by trying to ignore the dark side of their own society and by always insisting, no matter what, that one's country is always right.
Some of these ultra-nationalist may not be aware that they love their country, not out of choice, but simply because they were born and raised in that society. If they happened to be born Cambodian, they would likely love Cambodia. For most, this love is not by choice but by chance and circumstance.
With this understanding, it is hoped that one can become less nationalist and more humanistic and stop seeing the "foreign other" as something evil and untrustworthy. It's hard to think of the notion of global citizenship when many Thais are still trapped in their narrow notion of nationalism.
I am a human, first and foremost, then a Thai. Over the millennia, wars, death and destruction have been the result of sectarian and tribal conflicts, and while these most likely will continue to plague humankind, the more people perceive the dark side of nationalism and religious fundamentalism the better. Nationalism cannot be a true guide to what is right or just, for it is essentially biased towards the nation one holds allegiance to. In the name of "national interest", many foreigners and even local people have suffered and been subjected to exploitation. Unlike justice, nationalism is inherently partial and cannot be used as a compass to determine what is truly just.
It's ironic that while a Thai with a supposedly Cambodian heart must be evil and a traitor in the eyes of these Thai ultra-nationalists, these very same people who vilified me have no problem praising a Romanian lawyer who works for Thailand.
Did it not occur to them that perhaps Ms Miron might be just a "Romanian with a Thai heart"? Or is that acceptable as long as it benefits Thailand?