Can We Learn to Agree to Disagree?

Another young Thai made a stride at making the world known about the anachronistic and controversial lese majeste law this week.

It came in the form of music, rock music and metal in particular. The metal band, Defying Decay, was little known outside its circle of fans but that changed earlier this week when one of its songs, “The Law 112: Secrecy and Renegades” was listed second among rock songs most added by US radio stations on Tuesday. The song went viral in Thailand despite the fact that it’s in English and deafeningly loud.

“I’m really surprised. I didn’t know people could relate to it. The music itself is heavy but it’s a feeling people are feeling too,” Jay Poom Euarchukiati, lead singer and the songwriter told me in Bangkok on Thursday.

Jay is 24 and not alone as many opponents of the law are from a new generation.
He said the law is wrong. “I think it’s wrong. It’s been abused. It’s used wrongly. People have been dying [in prison] and I’m not okay with it.”

Like many families divided on the issue, Jay is no exception. He hopes people can respect each other’s differing views on the matter. “We’re all different people with different ideas.”

Jay is luckier than some. I have heard family members being disowned because of their differing views and ideologies. Some young monarchy-reform protesters paid the price of this narrowmindedness.

In the on-going battle over whether to reform the monarchy or not, my hope is that even if we disagree, we can learn to agree to disagree and respect one another.

It’s heartening to hear that some royalists are espousing the need to respect the rights of people who do not stand in respect of the royal anthem. In Thailand, the royal anthem is played prior to the screening of films and most moviegoers used to stand as the song is played.

Things have changed over the past few years as the number of those standing have significantly decreased to a point where even Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha admitted and told students at the National Defense College to be courageous enough to stand.

Thai Raksa, a royalist group, posted on Facebook Friday telling royalists not to be disheartened by the fact that fewer people are now standing before the royal anthem but urged royalists to respect the rights of those who do not stand although it’s done due to their realisation that it won’t do the monarchy any good.

Their calls are a reference to past cases many years ago when those who did not stand were attacked and even witch hunted. The most infamous case was that of political activist Chotisak Onsoong and his girlfriend a decade ago who eventually fled Thailand in Dec 2010 to seek refuge in Indonesia for over a year. They spent two and a half year in Indonesia.

Thai Raksa clearly doesn’t want to see a repeat of the ugly confrontation.

“What we can rectify immediately is we must not threaten those who do not want to stand. They just expressed their right [not to stand]. To threaten or get into a brawl as seen reported in the past on various media will not do any good to the monarchy institution but will lead to negative perception. So if we love [the monarchy] we must think about [the king] first and before our feelings.”

To stand or not to stand, theatres have become a new contested stage for or against royalism. I note that the group supports the draconian lese majeste law that doesn’t respect the rights to freedom of expression but it is at least a good start. People need to civilly start to agree to disagree as more people like Jay will make their stance public and intentionally or not infuriate royalists.

I truly hope we can steer the society through deliberation, respect for differences and not through force.