News from Thailand is that the US Ambassador to that country Glyn Davies is under investigation for having candidly raised concerns about the draconian lese majeste laws prevalent there, at a conference recently. It was just last month that Davies was posted there, and it didn’t take him long to point out that this piece of legislation was being used to suppress dissent, and that the sentences handed out to offenders were indecently disproportionate to the grade of crime committed.
In August, a 48 year old man was convicted for apparently having committed the grave offence of insulting the royalty, by posting messages and pictures deemed to be defamatory to the 87 year old monarch of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej. It was also in direct violation of Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights , which guarantees the “right to freedom of opinion and expression….. freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” As it happens, Glyn Davies is in danger of being charged with lese majeste himself, and we can’t be certain that his diplomatic immunity will be respected. It wasn’t long ago that I had come across this vulgar excuse for a law myself, and raised my own concerns about the potential for its abuse.
In 1993, a group of Asian states gathered at Bangkok and declared their own take on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have selected a few of their concerns here:
Noting the progress made in the codification of human rights instruments, and in the establishment of international human rights mechanisms, while expressing concern that these mechanisms relate mainly to one category of rights
Reaffirming the principles of respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of States
Recognizing that the promotion of human rights should be encouraged by cooperation and consensus, and not through confrontation and the imposition of incompatible values
Emphasizing that endeavours to move towards the creation of uniform international human rights norms must go hand in hand with endeavours to work towards a just and fair world economic order
Now, the first concern has to do with the idea that the UN Declaration of Human Rights are in conflict with the shared Asian cultural ideals of human rights and human development, because they follow the Western cultural ideals. This is an old idea that has forever been used to imply that ancient Oriental wisdom is self-sufficient in leading people towards the right path. While there is nothing wrong with that, it has to be acknowledged that there are certain outmoded restrictions and censorships that authoritarian people in both Eastern and Western cultures have forced on their subjects in the past. One objection is that the Western imperialist powers of the yesteryears are problematic as moral guardians of the world. Even though that is every bit true, it sounds a bit rich. As is very well known, Asian countries are not immune to dictatorships, personality cults and totalitarian rule by one – party pseudo-democracies. This brings us to the second concern enlisted above, which talks about non – interference in internal affairs. While that is necessary indeed for maintaining independence and political stability, human rights are a common necessity to every human being irrespective of nationality, gender or ethnicity. A nation cannot continue to suspend basic human rights to protect “territorial integrity”. North Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Iraq… There have been too many examples in Asia itself where outrageous violations of human rights have led to unjust societies, and breakdown of economies, exactly what the fourth concern seeks to address. One wonders how, as in the case of the Thai monarchy, can there be “uniform international human rights norms” when the king himself cannot brought under that purview. If criticism of the king is violation of his human rights, then for fairness, the king should also be prosecuted for violating the human rights of the one who criticizes him, since a person who is jailed for lese majeste cannot appeal their sentence. The excuse that “Asian values” should be respected is nonsense that is used to continually perpetrate atrocities on hapless human beings.
In any case, the whole system of the monarchy is an outrage to human reason. It’s immoral at the very best to pamper a mere mortal mammal just for the sake of some nebulous nationalistic ideal for the otherwise nameless and faceless subjects. The hereditary nature of the system, and the fact that absolute power is vested in a person who might or might not be qualified to rule a people makes it impossible for people to self – determine who they want to rule them. Bhumibol Adulyadej, for example, has ruled Thailand for a record 69 years. The Queen of the United Kingdom is running him close. Speaking of the Queen, everything about her and her extended family has to be endured by not only her subjects, but even by the descendants of subjects of her ancestors. Stupid comments and public endorsement of pseudoscience, for example. I would leave the stage for the late Christopher Hitchens, a man much better at criticism of nonsense than anyone I have known so far:
There have been times in our history – the stupid adulation of the loath some Edward VIII as “one of us” – when such manipulated populism was positively dangerous. But at no time is this conditioning of mild hysteria and personality cult a wholesome thing.
What one wants to propose, therefore, is not that we abolish monarchy but that we transcend it or, to put it in more old-fashioned terms, that we grow out of it. To remove the Windsors by the stroke of a legislative pen would be highly satisfying in one way, but disappointing in another. The infantilism and cretinism of the press, for example, can’t be cured just by a fiat. What should now begin is the process of emancipating ourselves from the mental habits of royalism, and the many supports it provides to unthinking attitudes and dysfunctional practices…… But the large and growing number of republicans and democrats will not have to witness this spectacle as if we were all a part of it, and it was all a part of us.
The private travails of the Windsors would not have – as they now do – the gruesome aspect of a publicly financed human sacrifice. The converse, in other words, does not hold – there is not limitless room for democracy in a monarchy and the sooner we appreciate this, and demand the extra space that an adult and constitutional settlement would require, the better off all of us, including even the monarchists, will be.
I couldn’t have put it better. It’s obscene to have monarchs putting up ostentatious shows of opulence funded by taxpayer’s hard-earned money, especially when they very likely contribute nothing productive to the economy or the social fabric. Hitchens again:
……the monarchic principle constitutes an obstacle to precisely that sense of responsibility about which we hear so much. It can’t be good for people to lead vicarious lives, made up partly of prurience and partly of deference, and fixated on the doings of an undistinguished and spoiled family.
But at least people can criticize the monarch in Britain. In China, however, the non-hereditary monarch of the pseudo-democracy, euphemistically known to the rest of the innocent world as “President of the People’s Republic of China” enjoys absolutist power that even the royal buffoons of Windsor don’t. China has been presenting a dismal picture as far as human rights records are concerned, year after year. One is supposed to sing paeans of the Leader, and dissent is crushed. People have no choice, because there is only one party that is in power. Fu Zhibin, a famous Chinese freethinker, has this to say about personality cults, which is what China’s power hierarchy is all about:
The radicalization of thought comes from monotheism: from one soul, to one leader, to one head of state, the structure of thought is the same — it’s about not allowing the masses to have any other idol or competing thoughts, so as to control and coerce them
We all know how the bizarre pretense of an atheist state in a Communist venture in Albania worked out under Enver Hoxha. Atheism loses its basic purpose, which is freedom from control by dogma and freedom of mind and exercise, if it is replaced by other forms of oppression and totalitarianism. It makes no difference to people if a monarch is replaced by a dictator. If it does make a difference, it only is a negative change. What prevails in China is institutional dictatorship. Fu Zhibin has criticized this oppressive system heavily in his book “A History of Brainwashing”. No surprise then, that Fu Zhibin was arrested and indicted -ostensibly for “illegal business operations”- and is likely to be sentenced to a jail term for 5 years. Another example of a systematic draconian measure to discourage dissent in an Asian country.
Donald Trump has been in the news recently for his version of free speech. He is not new to controversy, though. He has is a right-wing extremist who believes that America’s “greatness” lies in keeping out all foreign elements. So no immigrants, particularly no Mexicans, who are supposedly “drug abusers” and “rapists”. And, of course, no Muslims. The hatred/fear of Muslims amongst people is understandable given the recent spate of terrorist attacks by the reprehensible Islamic State in the Western world. The shootout at San Bernardino, CA came as a rude shock to everyone who thought that America was relatively free of homegrown Islamic extremism, but now have to make reconsiderations. Everyone is fed up with the continued threat of terrorists killing them in their own homeland, for no crime of their own. But there is something obscene and even dangerous in Trump’s opportunism and demagogy that is blatantly obvious. The First Amendment of the American Constitution allows him to say what he wants, and that’s what free speech is all about:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The problem is, he is engaging in outright bigotry by alienating all Muslims, most of whom very likely are, pretty much like all victims of terrorism in the West, innocent of what they are being accused of. An extremist stand is not going to solve problems as a quick fix. The people who support him are acting out of fear, and are forgetting what he has to say about women and disabled people.
Comparisons have been made between him and Hitler. But Hitler had more brains than Trump does. Trump is obviously a rich, cretinous babble-bag. Hitler was cold, calculated and diabolically cruel, just like the IS terrorists. But that’s a different issue.
With all this fear and hatred of Muslims, one term has made a big comeback again. Islamophobia. It appears that Muslim communities in different parts of the States are feeling “threatened” that they might come under attack because of the hatred of Muslims around. Are they justified in feeling insecure and literally crying out before they are hurt? Well, if history is anything to go by, Muslims did indeed come under attack in the States after the 9/11 horror, but nothing nearly as bad as is suggested by some sections of the media. In the Muslim world, it’s mostly Muslims who are, and have been killing other Muslims. So what is this noise called “Islamophobia”?
It’s basically a quick-fix defensive solution. It’s a preemptive measure to absolve the community, as it were, of all guilt by claiming innocence. It is meant to say, “We are the real Muslims (what the terrorists do is un-Islamic), and we don’t want to be held accountable for what the terrorists are doing.” That’s indeed fair, and I would even support that cause. Of course, innocent Muslims are, well, innocent, and that goes without saying. I have met all kinds of Muslims in my life. The devout, withdrawn type that Americans today would usually suspect of harbouring extremist ideologies, and the easy-going, secular, fun-loving kind. I certainly wouldn’t say I suspected them of being extremists. The main problem with terrorism today is that it’s difficult to profile potential terrorists. Much of the communication among extremists has shifted to the Internet, but it’s very difficult to keep track of all of it. However, there are a few issues with “Islamophobia”:
- False accusations of “racism”: Hatred of Muslims is being equated to racism by some because people with certain outward cultural identifiers, such as traditional Middle Eastern clothing or Arabic/Persian names etc are being targeted. This would seem to be superficially true, because most Muslim immigrants to the Western countries are of West Asian/South Asian origin, and are supposedly members of a “race”. While “race” itself is a social construct and has no real support from science, most people do believe in race, and apparently those who target Muslims are racists. Since racism is still real, not just in the West, but also in many other parts of the world, this charge of racism again would seem plausible. So, is hatred of Muslims tantamount to racism? Well, yes, if antisemitism is racism. That is, if you trusted Hitler’s pseudoscientific worldview. Also, by suggesting that being Muslim means belonging to one particular race, doesn’t it show that Islam itself is racist? Aren’t these people turning it on themselves? Of course, Islam is supposedly against racism. In reality Muslims belong to multiple ethnic groups, even people of European extraction. Islam is not a “race” by Islam’s own admission, it’s a religion. So charges of racism are only made out of convenience and hence are entirely false.
- Exaggerated charges of “bigotry”: Immigrants, more or less, do face bigotry in some parts of the Western world. The Irish face it, the Italians face it, the Indians face it. Outside of the Western world, Indians in India face it. All these are bigotry of one kind or the other, and are equally serious. The kind of bigotry Muslims face is not much different as far as cultural clash is concerned. The reaction to the bigotry is not necessarily the same, though. I don’t mean to say that any one of these groups should just lie down and take it. But no other group claims that it is feeling “intimidated” if its “holy” book is desecrated. Or if someone happens to draw the aniconic icon of their cultural group. Mere criticism is not labeled as “bigotry” by other immigrant groups. There are indeed real problems of marginalization for Muslim minorities, especially for new converts to Islam . Muslims are also persecuted and victimized in many parts of the world. These problems do need to be addressed as human rights violations. But ghettoization and self-alienation from the mainstream because of cultural restrictions isn’t going to help the cause. And certainly makes the “bigotry” charge sound hypocritical.
- “Islamophobia”=Fear/hatred of Islam: This might sound ridiculous, but Islamophobia shouldn’t technically mean fear/hatred of Muslims, rather it is supposed to mean fear/hatred of Islam. And one would like to believe that they are not the same. Muslims are just people following Islam. People can be talked to, they can be influenced through reasoning and discussion. Some people, like some ex-jihadists, are capable of doing it themselves. The great majority of Muslims are not blowing the world up. So fear of Muslims as a whole is obviously paranoid and unwarranted. It’s the unpredictability element to radicalization and subsequent terrorist outbreaks that is the reason people suffer from fear psychosis. What is for sure, is that Islam is a hateful ideology. Let’s be very clear about that. This is what verse 96 of Surah al Baqarah has got to say: And verily, you will find them (the Jews) the greediest of mankind for life and (even greedier) than those who – ascribe partners to Allah (and do not believe in Resurrection – Magians, pagans, and idolaters, etc.). Everyone of them wishes that he could be given a life of a thousand years. But the grant of such life will not save him even a little from (due) punishment. And Allah is All-Seer of what they do. Verse 4 of Surah Muhammad says: So, when you meet (in fight Jihad in Allah’s Cause), those who disbelieve smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly (on them, i.e. take them as captives). Thereafter (is the time) either for generosity (i.e. free them without ransom), or ransom (according to what benefits Islam), until the war lays down its burden. Thus [you are ordered by Allah to continue in carrying out Jihad against the disbelievers till they embrace Islam (i.e. are saved from the punishment in the Hell-fire) or at least come under your protection], but if it had been Allah’s Will, He Himself could certainly have punished them (without you). But (He lets you fight), in order to test you, some with others. But those who are killed in the Way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost. One could go on, but there is really no end to hateful injunctions in the Koran. It’s a screed about the rewards of believing in Allah, and about how disbelievers will burn in an eternal fire, and about how it’s the duty of the believers to ensure that they do. For anyone who contends that Islam is a religion of peace, it seems that they actually believe that the infidels and unbelievers have as much intelligence as their illiterate 7th century merchant of a Prophet. No one in their right mind can not hate an ideology that is meant to be hateful towards them. Those who hate Muslims just for the sake of hating are bigots, those who hate or fear Muslims because of paranoia are Muslimophobes, and that term shouldn’t acquire a negative connotation. It’s hard enough to live in fear. And here is the catch. Those who hate Islamic ideology of hate, are Islamophobes, and by that definition, everyone who is not a Muslim should be an Islamophobe, unless the ritual hatred is gotten rid of from the Koran, and unless adherents to Islam all the world over become more open about discussion and criticism of their religious staples.
Neither does Donald Trump deserve any support -because he will lead America to ruins in the long term in the unlikely case he does come to disgrace the Oval Office- nor do Muslims deserve any special protection, and especially not their religion, just because some crazy nutcase proposes to drive them out. America has seen a lot of idiots in the past, and has rejected them, so they know better. It’s up to the Muslims to do the same. Even more so in their case, since they claim to be part of a universal Muslim brotherhood (no place for sisters, by the way) and are always upfront and united when any injustice is done to Muslims in any part of the world. By the same token, if they really do hate terrorism, they should stop making these petulant fulminations and be more proactive in being vigilant against radicalization of the apostles of Muhammad in their mosques and madrassas and rein in the terrorist elements. It’s the least they can do for a world that is afraid of them. In the meantime, the world must do everything it can to protect and stand up for its free speech. The first thing to address using free speech is mowing down of Trump’s stupid and bigoted rabid-redneck-teenager rhetoric. Only then can we begin looking at Thailand and China.