Where Ignorance is Bliss

Years and years ago, when I was still trying to figure out who really ruled the world (I now know – it’s misogynistic, racist, bigoted braggarts with strange hair and an even stranger attitude to the truth), an unusual thing happened in Thailand. 

The civilian government of the day suddenly found a sliver of spine and tried to tell the military that their lethal-toys-for-the-feral-boys budget might not be as excessive as they wished.  Predictable outrage from personages with starch-pressed uniforms and ditto minds.

One general, however, said that it didn’t matter.  If the Thai government was too stingy to give the brave defenders of the nation what they wanted, the Army could always go to the World Bank for a grant to buy arms.

I wasn’t sure what most gasted my flabber, founded my dumb or smacked my gob – the monumental ignorance of this opinion or the monumental shamelessness of exposing it in public.

Nobody at the time tried pointing out to the general that (a) the World Bank does not fund anything to do with arms (their poisonous activities being limited to coal-fired power stations and such); (b) only governments can apply for World Bank funding, not subsidiary agencies, however much they feel themselves to be independent of any form of democratic control; and (c) it’s a bloody bank, for heaven’s sake – banks never give money; they just lend it and expect it back, with interest.

I thought at the time that fear of military retribution prevented anyone from publicly contradicting the general.  By laughing out loud, for instance.  But in fact, he wasn’t challenged because very few people with a voice in the media knew enough to say how woefully wrong-headed he was.

It looks like the same thing is happening now over the government’s lèse majesté extradition efforts.

The Thai government, strictly following the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results) (apparently not by Einstein but it should have been), has announced it will again seek the extradition of Thais accused of lèse majesté.  The Justice Minister is too coy to name the countries involved but the media have listed them.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs adds a word of caution.  “There may be a problem because if these crimes aren't illegal in the other countries, it will make extradition difficult,” says the Minister.  But he is hopeful of “cooperation”.  This would be cooperation in breaking the law, better known as criminal conspiracy.

This time, however, the police have a Plan B.  They are going to enlist the help of Interpol when extradition fails. 

Let us make the facts of the case quite clear. 

Extradition treaties do not apply when Country A claims there has been a violation of a law that Country B simply does not have and surprise, surprise, since most countries have no majesté, they also have no lèse majesté law.  And extradition treaties normally have specific exclusions for political offences.

Take, for example, the extradition treaty between Thailand and the UK.  Article 2 lists the 31 offences covered by the treaty, from murder to ‘dealing in slaves’.  And guess what, lèse majesté is not among them.  Nor is defamation, in any shape or form. 

Furthermore, yeronner, Article 5 reads ‘A fugitive criminal shall not be surrendered if the offence … is deemed by the Party on whom the demand is made to be one of a political character ... .’  So it is up to the UK to decide if lèse majesté is a crime ‘of a political character’ and bugger whatever casuistry the Thai side comes up with.

So how about the Interpol end run?  Well, perhaps the Royal Thai Police are not aware of this, but Interpol does operate by a set of rules, called a constitution (but not the sort that a military government can rip up at will).  And Article 3 reads:

‘It is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.’

So there.  Shot down in flames and dead in the water.

But unlike the ignorant general and his wishful thinking about the World Bank, I am reasonably confident that the high heidyins who are spouting this nonsense are well aware that it is nonsense.  (No, on reflection, maybe not all of them; a police chief who will pay for tickets for lm suspects to leave the country so that he then can fail to extradite them back might still be suffering from some confusion on the issue).

And they must also know that their seemingly ignorant posturing is earning them nothing but ridicule in the embassies and foreign ministries to whom they are submitting these absurd requests.  So why do they insist on making themselves and Thailand an international laughing-stock?

It must be for a domestic audience whose understanding of how the world works outside the fairy tales of the Thai education system has been kept deliberately underdeveloped.  The powers-that-be make dishonest outlandish claims about what they could do if only these ignorant foreigners would understand Thailand properly.  And an ignorant (really ignorant, this time) public is supposed to swallow this and think them heroes. 

But maybe the Thai public is not quite as ignorant as they used to be.


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).