Calls for blood must be nipped in bud
What began as a silly spat between female politicians in opposite camps may not turn out pretty judging from louder calls for blood from right-wing, ultra-royalists.
I first thought of it as only a storm in a teacup. Of course, it's disappointing to see pro-junta female politicians bully a new girl on the block like jealous high-school girls. But when the dress code brouhaha quickly exploded into a blood-thirsty lese majeste witch-hunt, our worst fears could materialise sooner than expected.
This chilling thought crossed my mind when I was reading conversations among a group of temple-going mothers in one of my chat rooms about the lese majeste allegations against Future Forward Party (FFP) spokeswoman Pannika Wanich.
It was shocking that these usually pleasant and considerate women are anti-monarchy witch-hunters too.
Evidently, from their conversations, Ms Pannika is not the only target of their hatred, but also other members of the FFP, which they believe is pro-Thaksin and anti-monarchy.
"They should be imprisoned and forced to change their crazy ideas, then sent to the deep South."
"They are in too deep to change. They don't know what's good or bad any more. They must be kept in prison for good."
"They should die."
"They should not be in Thailand anymore."
"They are part of the movement to continue the 1932 Revolution. There should be a crackdown. Otherwise they will return to spin more lies."
It is one thing to read hate speech from complete strangers on social media. It's another when you know these haters and like them personally.
Then a horrifying image suddenly came to my mind. Yes, that image at Sanam Luang in 1976; a man hitting a "communist" dangling under a tree with a chair, surrounded by people, including children, who cheered on as their perceived enemy of the monarchy, the nation and Buddhism, was being brutalised before their eyes.
The communist threat no longer exists now. Yet the ultra-royalist fervour that could be readily manipulated by the powers-that-be to destroy dissent and seize power is as strong as ever, if not more so. Why?
Why do people who take pride in being Buddhists -- like the temple-going mothers in my chat room -- feel they are doing good by urging and supporting killing, the gravest sin in Buddhism?
What is going on in their minds? What are their motives? Love for the country? Fear of change? Or is it simply that they have been brain-washed? How to nip their thirst for violence in the bud before it is too late?
Although Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, Buddhism is not our main guiding principle. It's a simple principle: To be Buddhist is to restrain from exploitation -- both of others and ourselves.
If our country were Buddhist, people wouldn't be supporting the death penalty. The country wouldn't be making money from the flesh trade, human trafficking, and drinking. The country wouldn't be drowned in corruption and ridden with environmental destruction. And people would think twice before speaking, or keying in, verbal violence.
If Thailand is a Buddhist country, then it should learn the Buddhist way to react to criticism. When an old Brahmin slammed the Buddha with abusive tirades, the Buddha did not react with anger and hatred or put that ignorant man in jail. He only listened to the tirades as mere sounds that came to pass. Then he basically told the old man the ill will and its negative results stay with the person who harbours them.
When the Buddha was accused of causing a pregnancy, he did not torture the woman to tell the truth, nor silence her. He waited for the truth to reveal itself.
This is the path people with moral confidence should follow. This is why the highly revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej advocated being open to criticism, saying clearly in his 2005 royal speech that the lese majeste law in fact hurt him and the monarchy.
But civil criticism is necessary when dealing with emotionally charged issues. It is useful to look at Buddhist principles on Right Speech.
In line with Buddhism, telling the truth is not enough. That truth must be delivered with goodwill and without hurting others. Divisive, hateful speech is a no-no. That piece of truth must also be beneficial and spoken at the right time to bring about change.
Both sides of Thailand's political divide clearly have not followed this principle.
If not Buddhism, then what is our country's religion? Unquestionably, it is royal nationalism -- the main ideology systematically perpetuated by our education system, which governs every sector in our society.
As in any faith, many powerful sectors of society benefit from it and are ready to abuse that faith for their own self interest. Criticism, instead of being regarded as freedom of expression, is treated as blasphemy that must be severely punished.
Ironically, while the "patriots" may feel passionate and proud to defend and save the monarchy, they are actually hurting the royal institution. No matter how one looks at it, it is dragging the monarchy into politics.
The modern monarchy is based on royal benevolence for all. What the right-wing, ultra-royalists are doing is undermining this very foundation. It does not bode well if we let this go on.
To understand the political game, we must ask who will benefit if the anti-monarchy witch-hunt gets out of hand. It's an easy guess.
The first salvo in this lese majeste witch-hunt came from the pro-junta camp. A prompt investigation ensued. That the target belongs to a new political party that the pro-junta camp perceives as a political threat makes the witch-hunt all the more dubious.
The coalition government ahead will be a weak one. The opposition will make it extremely difficult for the government to rule. Politics will be tense. No one knows when the military will get fed up with the guise of civilian rule.
If the followers of royal nationalism are unaware of systematic political manipulation to use them as pawns for political goals, their patriotism can be easily whipped up into political extremism to trigger violence.
It has happened before. If this anti-monarchy witch-hunt continues, then we cannot rule out it happening again.
Sanitsuda Ekachai is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.
Former editorial pages editor
Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post. She writes on human rights, gender, and Thai Buddhism.