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Respect the Crook? Yes, We Should.

Professor Thirayuth Boonmee raised the question on the television news whether or not respect my vote applied to respect the crook as well.

This is a very bizarre question. It is as if Professor Thirayuth has been convinced that the voters have already decided whom they will select, and no matter whom they select, they will all be crooks (since the Democrat Party has boycotted the election).

But I cannot make an accurate guess about whom the people who called for respect for their right to vote (in many different forms) have decided to select. Further, given that this group of people includes those from a wide variety of political perspectives, I do not believe that anyone could know.  It is so difficult to speculate, except that Professor Thirayuth and their other opponents have looked down on them from the beginning. Their view is that the majority of voters are stupid people who are always tricked by the candidates.

And is the obstruction of elections with violent and brutal methods legitimate, or not?
Suppose that the majority of voters did decide incorrectly, as a result of selfishness, having incomplete, thinking about the short-term only, or for other reasons derived from human weakness or defects.  If we respect the rights and humanity of the voters, should we really cease respecting their right to vote, even in this case?  

As an academic, one thing one should do is build understanding and knowledge for fellow citizens, including collecting and sharing information that they perhaps do not already have, and offering perspectives on various matters that they have perhaps never been invited to consider. We should build understanding so that our fellow citizens will agree with us that in the end, personal interest and collective interest cannot be separated. I am certain that Professor Thirayuth may not agree with me on this matter.

Professor Thirayuth has the ability to make his opinion known in society more widely than ordinary academics.  He can do the things I mentioned above with ease, if he wishes to make a true intellectual contribution to society.

Doing what I have outlined above, however, must begin with viewing other people, even if they hold different political opinions, as possessing the humanity and quality of being a citizen equal to that of ourselves and our followers. If we deny this, then we may not see the purpose in exchanging ideas and understanding with other people, and may think that they should be deprived of, or even have their fundamental rights, the basic rights everyone possesses, revoked.

In truth, the accusation that people who want to use their voting rights are those who are prepared to select crooks is one that has not been proven through a lawful process. This kind of accusation that has long been made in Thai society. The rights, humanity, and quality of being a citizen of those who are accused ceases to be respected. Those who hold power (whether the power is the result of dictatorship, election, tradition, or agitation of the mob) are able to punish them however they wish, overtly and covertly.

The most uncivilized barbarity -- such as that which occurred on 6 October 1976 -- emerged from accusations for which there was no imperative to prove through a lawful process. Perhaps Professor Thirayuth remembers the events of that day.

Students and intellectuals were accused, without any need for proof, of being alien Communist agents, and therefore did not love the nation, religion, and king. They were the scum of the earth and had lost all semblance of being human. People (who were not actually ordinary people, but were state forces or those organized by the state) were able to execute them in all manner of savage ways.

As Professor Thirayuth likely knows well, the process of destroying their humanity began a year before 6 October. Their humanity was destroyed through cooperation among the media, intellectuals, military, businessman, bankers, and capitalists, political parties, and all traditional institutions, such as monks in the sangha, and some parts of the judiciary, which aimed to harvest political benefit from this process.

The process of the destruction of the humanity of political enemies affords legitimacy to the use of brutal violence. This has occurred again and again in Thai society. The soldiers who cruelly shot the people during Black May 1992 were told that they had to suppress Communists who were disloyal to the nation, religion, and king. I do not know what the soldiers who shot the people in cold blood in 2010 were told, but there was likely a process of destroying the humanity of the Red Shirts so much so that the soldiers shot “people” (who were not their enemies) without hesitation.

I can only hope that Professor Thirayuth, as someone forced to face a horrendous experience resulting from the destruction of his humanity on 6 October, which meant he had to flee in order to avoid being killed, will perhaps agree with me that we must try to the best of our abilities to stop the use of the accusations which are not proven via any lawful process. If not, our children and grandchildren will have to run away from death and unending injustice like their ancestors.

However, I realize that Professor Thirayuth may not agree with me. He may then say that if he met Khun Thaksin Shinawatra face-to-face again, he is prepared to violate the law even more gravely than this.  When he spoke on the television news, there were loud cheers in response to what he said.   A not insignificant number of people cheered in the same way on 4-6 October 1976 in response to Yan Kraw radio [Yan Kraw radio is run by the Royal Thai Army and during 4-6 October they called for action to be taken against the alien and Communist student inside Thammasat University in order to protect the three pillars of nation, religion, and monarchy --translator].

I have no knowledge with regard to what degree Professor Thirayuth would violate the law if he met Thaksin face-to-face. But the cheers of the people who responded to his remarks caused me to realize that there is no longer any law that can protect the life and body of Khun Thaksin in this country. All that remains for him is to have nails driven into his chest, be hung, beaten with an iron chair, and burned alive.

Professor Thirayuth does not have to accept any responsibility, just as Yan Kraw radio has not had to accept any responsibility up until today.

This is of course related to the question of whether or not we should respect crooks. I answered this question emphatically in the title of this essay: we should respect crooks.
In a society that is sufficiently mature, we should respect crooks. This is entirely different from the matter of respecting fraud itself. Whatever happens, fraud is despicable. No one should be complicit in it.

People with an undisputed history of fraud who claim that they are reformed still receive broad-based respect today. You see it’s this way, right? Nevertheless, we should not respect the act. For example, taking the land of the Agricultural Land Reform Office and giving it to one’s own supporters, taking advantage in the vegetable oil business, trespassing on public land in order to possess it as one’s own, etc., should not be afforded respect.

Even though we cannot respect the swindle, we should still respect the crooks themselves. That is, we should respect their humanity. No matter will how fiendish the swindle, the humanity of the crooks will never disappear, and we should afford this humanity respect.

Human society has developed the punishment of rogues, those who do not agree to play by the rules, over a long period. Some existing methods of punishment get some results, and others fail to do so. But we have held off changing these methods up until the present. We should change and update the methods of punishment, both in order to have greater capacity in preventing crime and, necessarily, to afford respect to the humanity of those who must be punished.

In Thailand, even the death penalty has not yet been abolished (studies in many societies demonstrate that the death penalty does not control crime efficiently). But the method of execution has been changed from firing squad to lethal injection, which does not cause terror and pain for those punished. This is one form of respect for their humanity.

Simultaneously, there are still many groups of people calling for the Department of Prisons to respect the humanity of prisoners. For example, to stop shackling them, to improve the living conditions inside the prison, to improve the relations between the wardens and the prisoners in order to reflect respect for the humanity of the prisoners, and to abolish the death penalty and all forms of physical abuse.

This is about respect for crooks and respect for the humanity of the crooks. We should all afford respect to them, and not only to those who are already in prison. We should respect the humanity of all those who are accused, whether the accusation has already been proven through a lawful process or not.

As we think further about the accusations made in Thai society, which frequently are not proven through a lawful process, a deeper consideration is that committing gravely illegal acts in order to violate [the rights of] those accused of being crooks, should definitely not be done. To put it simply, this is the arbitrary use of the law in one’s hands.

If we have a judicial process that is lengthy and prolonged and which may lack equity (for example, the case of Sherry Ann Duncan), if we have a state authority that makes illegitimate accusations, if we have entities that have power above the state which make illegitimate accusations, then the making of accusations becomes an instrument in the ascendance of power or the preservation of power unwilling to cede. Should we come together to struggle against injustice like this, or should we come together with the process of the swindle?

In Thai, the simpler meaning of to swindle [ฉ้อฉล] is to cheat [โกง]. It’s not even directly related to money (but it can extend to it, and it is involved at even level, from the seizure of the assets of military dictators to CT scans and balloons that refuse to float).

I have my answer. And Professor Thirayuth perhaps has his own answer.



First printed in Thai in Matichon Weekly (มติชนสุดสัปดาห์), 7-13 February 2014, p. 30-31. Also available here: Respect the Crook? Yes, We Should.

Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.