A Damper on Discourse

Both of the countries which I have recently called “home” have policies that sharply limit the personal expression of ideas. Recently, the UAE passed a law making it a crime to use the Internet to criticize its rulers or institutions. See the following link http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20317803

In Thailand, you can be jailed for years for on the mere accusation  of having insulted the King! After a few years they might let you out if they determined that you didn’t really insult the crown, but just lacked reverence. Needless to say, opposing political parties routinely accuse each other of such offenses, and the backlog of these lese majeste cases is clogging the courts.

What are the rulers afraid of? Are they that thin-skinned? Well, yes and no. The UAE is an area of relative calm and stability, in a part of the world where revolution can seemingly come out of nowhere one day and burn the whole place down the next. So despite their current liberal atmosphere, they want the legal framework in place to stop what happened in Egypt, Libya and Syria from happening here.

Thailand is another case, altogether. This intense devotion to the Royal Family only developed after World War II. There was historical precedence, sure, but nothing like what’s going on now.  So I don’t have an answer other than it seems a form of super-patriotism mingled with religious fervor.

To this observer, the strangest aspect in all of this is that the current rulers of Dubai and Thailand are enlightened leaders. They’re great guys, forward thinking, talented, magnanimous. The King of Thailand jammed with Benny Goodman. Sheik Mohammad of Dubai has helped craft a country that doesn’t rely so much on oil wealth as it does on the principles of unfettered market capitalism.

But these policies regarding public discourse make it almost impossible for anyone to take the risk to talk about these things, for fear of imprisonment or deportation.

The only reason I’m sticking my neck out is because I’m hardly saying anything revolutionary or novel here. I’m just trying to describe these places to the folks back home.


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