Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Beware of "Thai Style Democracy"

If you are a regular reader of the Thai newspapers, you cannot escape but noticing a continual slew of articles strung with such phrases as "Thai Style Democracy." This kind of writing makes me nautious -- for good reason. In the social sciences, such a discourse is refered to as "nativism." One need turn no further than to the roots of fascist ideology in Japan, Nazi Germany, the former Yugoslavia, or to the American government's invention of "Homeland Security" -- followed four years later by the recent decision of the US government to deny foreigners the right of habeus corpus -- to see where nativism leads.

In post-coup Thailand, nativist ideologues will claim that Thai-style democracy is not "only" about elections. New Mandala's Andrew Walker discusses a recent academic paper by Thai scholar Pattana Kitiarsa that attempts to explain the bloodless coup d'etat as an example of "Thai-style democracy." Here's a quote from the paper:
Thaksin’s deep crisis of legitimacy, despite having full control of power, reflects the fact that he had failed miserably to convert his power into the Buddhist ideal of moral and political authority.
That's what nativism sounds like. Notice how it pulls local religious traditions into the political sphere. The stench of nativism pollutes both the political life of a nation and contributes to the rot and decay of the cultural and religious modes it hijacks.

You can see this happening today in America vis a vis Christianity, where Republicans have hijacked Christianity in defense of torture and war. You can see this happening in Thailand now with regards to Buddhism. Walker quotes more such drivel from Sulak Sivaraksa*, who is quoted in Pattana Kitiarsa's academic paper:
I hope I shall live that long to be able to witness the return of Thai democracy to its roots in the Buddha Dhamma—despite the destruction of Thai Democracy by Mara [the devil] who happens to be the chief executive of the Thai nation at present.
As I mention, these days the Thai papers are full of articles spouting this sort of nonsense. But it's not so different from extreme right-wing American efforts to portray the United States as a "Christian nation." Walker quotes from philosopher Amarya Sen, who reminds us that "...the grand dichotomy between Asian values and European values adds little to our understanding, and much to the confounding of the normative basis of freedom and democracy."

* Posting amended on 11/30/06. Click here to view a reader's letter regarding this posting and Jotman's response.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Because all comments on this blog are moderated, there will be some delay before your comment is approved.