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Thailand : A crude response to the horrors in Paris

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, a government adviser and private citizens have exploited the terror attacks for their own purposes

Diplomatic protocol - as well as compassion - obliged Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to deliver a message of condolence to the French government and people following Friday’s terror attacks in Paris. What’s harder to explain is his decision to use the same message to justify his own political agenda and invoke Thai nationalism in a way that can only embarrass Thailand further.

In the wake of the Parisian atrocity, the French deserve the international community’s moral support to bolster their courage. Short of discovering a way to discourage terrorists, there is nothing more we can do. And yet Prayut felt compelled to go further.

He warned the Thai news media to restrain their coverage of the political divisions that exist in our country lest they inadvertently deepen them. The media should instead be helping the government monitor the « bad elements », he said. « Conflicts can create loopholes that terrorists could take advantage of, » he said. « The media and the people should keep a close eye on the situation. »

National leaders around the world have this week warned their citizens to be on guard against terrorist threats, but the premier took it further, adding yet again that he’s « not in conflict with anyone » and that he seized power in the 2014 coup for the sake of « national stability ».

More than a year after the coup, General Prayut is evidently still insecure enough about his actions that he feels he needs to continue offering explanation. He has used every conceivable opportunity to repeat the claim that his coup was essential for national reconciliation and not a power grab designed to benefit the elite or the military itself.

Unfortunately, what’s transpired in the past year does not support that claim. We have seen the reform process prolonged and constitutional attempts made to perpetuate the coup-makers’ reign. Political reconciliation is paid lip service as critics are hunted down and silenced. Corruption remains rampant at all levels of society.

Adding to the torment of the prime minister’s ill-worded message « to Paris », Panitan Wattanyagorn - a security adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan - blamed France’s woes on « too much freedom ». Excess liberty opens the doors to terrorists, Panitan said, so public freedoms are best curtailed by the authorities.

On the contrary, restricting the rights of the people foments disobedience that becomes harder and harder to contain. Authoritarianism begets insurrection.

France is a secular republic where « liberty » is minted in the national soul along with « equality », a concept not always given full rein there but clear enough in the safeguards assured to politicians and media outlets of sharply contrasting views. There is an acute social divide in France, and yet terror attacks are not permitted to challenge the right to basic freedoms.

Meanwhile Thai ultra-nationalists on the social media should be ashamed for suggesting that the French are paying some sort of karmic price for their colonialist ancestors’ seizure of Siamese territory in Laos and Cambodia in late 19th century. After all, that territory did not belong to Siam in the first place - it had been annexed two centuries earlier.

Thai leaders and Thai citizens need to broaden their view. The best first response to what has happened in France, yet again - and could well happen here, yet again - is unified, global empathy, not a demonstration of tunnel vision from the other side of the world.

Within our immediate realm of capabilities, and far away from self-serving messages broadcast internationally, Thais must re-examine the security measures we have in place and be assured that further attacks can be prevented. We should be doing what we can regionally to offset the threat. And we must always bear in mind that one crime doesn’t justify another. Counter-terrorism is no rationale for the seizure of power or the loss of freedom.

Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.