Banish the thought

Within days of a Section 44 order banning certain ideas from entering the country, chaos reigned at the kingdom’s borders.

In an attempt to promote unity and reconciliation and to thwart political divisions, Prime Minister and National Council for Peace and Order Head Prayut Chan-o-cha exercised his supreme authority to ban the entry into Thailand of any work connected to 7 ideologies: communism, socialism, liberalism, anti-monarchism, anti-conservatism, antimilitarism and antidisestablishmentarianism.

Any book, journal, internet article, film or other form of communication associated with these ideas would be stopped at the border and prevented from entering the country for a period of 90 days.  Gen Prayut said that these beliefs could pose a terrorist threat to Thai minds so it was necessary to stop them coming in ‘until we figure out what the hell is going on’.

A government spokesperson objected to the media’s description of the order as an ‘ideas ban’. He explained ‘the ban in no way discriminated against ideas as such since other philosophies are permitted’.  So it wasn’t a ban and the media was demonstrating once again its bias against the government by insisting on using the same word that he and the Prime Minister had used.

When asked how the 7 ‘isms’ had been identified, he said that Military Intelligence had identified these as the most dangerous for Thailand.  Observers however noted that these ideologies had been responsible for no serious unrest in the last 30 years, whereas bigotry, misogyny and ignorance, for example, caused problems almost on a daily basis and were allowed to circulate freely in Thai society, even in the highest government circles.

One reporter raised the issue of antidisestablishmentarianism and asked why it was included on the list.  A 19th century position against the idea that the Church of England should cease being the state religion seemed to pose no clear danger to anyone.  After a hurried consultation with aides, the spokesperson made some irrelevant remarks about the status of Theravada Buddhism in the draft constitution.

The reporter then suggested that the government didn’t in fact know what antidisestablishmentarianism was, and that the ban was ill-conceived, impractical and would do nothing to make the nation more secure.

At this point, the spokesperson became rather emotional and said that the government had information that no one else had, and if the government, who is more intelligent and moral and patriotic than anyone else, said that antidisestablishmentarianism was dangerous, then the media had better ‘keep its mouth shut’.

Officials on Thailand’s borders appear to have been caught unawares by the order and early reports revealed that decisions were being made on an arbitrary basis, with the same magazine being allowed in at one airport but confiscated and destroyed at another.  The problem seemed to be particularly acute in the case of foreign-language publications where officials were having trouble understanding the material, but still having to decide if it contravened the new order.

One bemused airline official told the media that all copies of their in-flight magazine had been seized after a passenger had alerted security officials to an article with a recipe that called for ‘a liberal sprinkling of black pepper’.  The magazine was promptly banned for promoting liberalism.

A delegation of khunyings had to intervene to secure the release of some of their hi-so friends from Suvarnabhumi Detention Centre when it was found that immigration officials were unaware of the distinction between ‘socialite’ and ‘socialist’.

Many controversies concerned ‘dual ideology’ items, with one credo on the banned list, but the other not.  The famous Tolstoy novel ‘War and Peace’ caused difficulties while officials had to decide if half of the title was antimilitarist, and if so, which half.

With the book industry, the media and a host of educational institutions calling loudly for the order to be revised if not revoked entirely, and with numerous legal challenges in the courts, Gen Prayut seemed unconcerned.

‘It's working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over,’ said a smiling Prime Minister, looking forward to a country with no ideas.

About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).