The Many Faces of Intolerance Dragging Down Thailand

A vigil held for victims of the Orlando shooting Monday in front of the US Embassy in Bangkok.


Intolerance, political or not, brings out the worst in us. A pro-democracy political science freshman at Chulalongkorn University discovered it June 9 when a lecturer there suggested he was unfit for the university because his appearance might put the university’s reputation in doubt.

Pram Sounsamut, Head of the Thai-Language Teaching Division at the university, made the comment about Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, adding that students’ appearances should account for 50 percent of the scores for admitting them.

“I won’t comment about politics and his [political] activism,” wrote Pram on Facebook. “But his face will cause the identity of Chulalongkorn people to be doubted in the eyes of the public.”

For those who dislike Netiwit such as Pram, ad hominem attacks are a lazy but easy way to undermine others.

On Wednesday, and after much public pressure, Pram posted on Facebook an apology, saying “I recognized that it was an inappropriate opinion and may cause damage to many people and parties”. He also removed his previous postings on Netiwit.

Netiwit on Thursday told me that no direct apology was ever offered to him by Pram, however. By then many anti-juntanites on social media who support Netiwit had started poking fun at Pram’s appearance and spreading his photos online.

Netiwit is not alone, and many Thais discriminate on the basis of their looks, sexual orientation or political affiliation.

To not a few number of Thais, name calling and ad hominem attacks are normal and preferable to using rational debate to explain what might be wrong with the person you happened to disapprove of. It creates an easy and shallow sense of instant gratification suited more to immature minds befitting the immature state of Thai society.Pravit Rojanaphruk

In another example, not a day passes on social media without mostly pro-junta ultra-royalists denouncing some of their perceived enemies as “faggots,” or “gay.” To them, calling someone gay is calling them evil, abnormal and wrong. That or a sign they lack any more coherent criticism.

Mind you, some anti-junta Redshirts also denounce homosexuals who happened to be in pro-junta camp for their sexual orientation as well.

By making fun of and denouncing ugly people, gay people and people of different political ideology, they become “the other,” bereft of the facets of their identity. “This man is just ugly and not one of us. This person is gay, a joke and not one of us. This anti-monarchist is ungrateful and not Thai.” So on and so forth.

Being gay may not be a crime in Thailand but some homophobes want to make gays feel ashamed of being homosexuals. Anyone standing up for the LGBT cause is almost automatically branded as a gay, lesbian or transexual. There’s a need for more non-LGBT Thais to stand for LGBT rights, however. You don’t need to be gay, lesbian or transexuals in order embrace and stand for the rights of people who are different from you.

The lack of tolerance for those with different sexual orientation or physical appearance is reflected in the lack of tolerance for people of differing political views.

Intolerance is antithetical to diversity. Diversity is a norm in any society because people simply are too diverse to agree on everything, particularly in a democratic society. The struggle for acceptance of people who are different, be it because of their look, gender or political orientation, is the struggle for a democratic and pluralistic society.

There can be no democracy without democratic culture and democratic culture requires acceptance, or at least tolerance, for those who are different from you and me.