Western intellectual elites pride themselves on being liberal and democratic. But is this only form over substance? These Western opinion leaders seemingly want to propagate, export and share their vision of liberal democracy. Occasionally, Western governments even venture abroad to help angry citizens topple oppressive or tyrannical regimes and replace them with elected ones.
But – an unfeeling fixation on formalism can convert the best of intentions into a kind of neo-colonialism, a project to bring others under one’s tutelage and “improve” them so as to better measure up to Western preferences.
Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation – “The Joy of the Gospel” – is not that appreciative of the modern commercialized civilization created by the West, one that he finds crass and calculating and too tilted towards the rich and the powerful.
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Many political and cultural achievements of the Western world are indeed laudable and much envied. Western values are often admired and looked up to as guidelines for social justice. But what about the values of all the other people in the world? Have they no legitimacy? Is Buddhism, for example, a religion to be intellectually stepped on?
Lately, however, there have been doubts arising as to the intellectual sophistication of the West and its actions. Have Western elites succumbed to the narrow pursuits of a faceless corporate system of greed and short-sightedness? Has meanness in the pursuit of strategic interest taken precedence over the lofty idealism of genuine democracy for all – not just for crony capitalists?
In the case of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra speaks the West’s corporatese. He has cleverly presented himself as the Western world’s “ourman.” And he was elected to office in line with Western values and his successive proxy governments were also all so elected. So Western intellectuals ignore his illiberal and undemocratic practices. They do not mind that Thaksin is a convicted criminal and a fugitive. They do not care how election victories were actually won on the ground. TheWestern world seems not to notice that dictatorial populism à la Thaksin was divisive and discriminatory and a means to siphon off the people’s money for his own, his family’s and his cronies’ use. Whereas populism à la Chavez of Venezuelawas not acceptable because Chavez stood up against the Western world and capitalist corporatism, populism à la Thaksin in Thailand was trumpeted as caring for the downtrodden and not as a means towards corruptionand national self-destruction. Thaksin learned how to charm the West while some of the mega-populist projects offered western suppliers the benefits of lucrative concessions and business deals.
So, protesters against Thaksin and his proxy governments are labeled elitists by many in the West – also urbanized; ultra-conservative and reactionary or even anti-Western. This is utter nonsense – as well as demeaning and condescending to the intellectual capacity and integrity of the Thai people.
To add insult to injury, many Western commentators, even those who have lived in Thailand – but not close to the Thai people -believethat Thaksin’s supporters, the Red Shirts who used violenceand thuggish behaviour à la the Brown and the Black Shirts, are true democratsand revolutionary in spirit. This is a naive and shallow view which cannot be further from the truth.
The protests of all non Reds seek a cleaner Thailand only; a politics of participation; of equitable sharing of wealth; of justice; of access to opportunity and of a sense of decency. Thai people want change and betterment through a reform process that will be put a new constitution to a referendum. They propose a postponement of the general election to enable a significant reform process to take place. The proposed reform process cannot take place under the shadow and heavy hand of the present ruling interest groups as they are no longer trusted and respected by the people.
Thailand needs to break off from the past. Thailand needs a clean slate.
The Western world supported the Egyptians in toppling their elected and Muslim-
brotherhood backed Morsi Government. It welcomed military intervention and military midwifing of the constitutional drafting task and it is mute about various charges brought against Morsi as a democratically elected leader. Whom does the West support in Thailand?
In Thailand’s case, we see unfolding before us a people’s undertaking through freedom of expression and participation, with the principle of inclusiveness, and rejection of extractive political institutions and rent-seeking personalities.
Occupy Wall Street in the US rejected financial dominance and control over politics. The danger of money running politics is international. No one is safe from the corrupting power of big money. Thai people share the sentiment of this movement to bring ethics to Wall Street and wish them further success, because their success would help minimize the misbehavior of their government abroad.
We are all living in the era of interdependency and partnership, the submissive dependency of many on a few great powers is no more. We call for Western governments and political institutions to separate themselves from money thinking and align with the democratic forces of the world. We ask for consistency and integrity in placing aspirations and struggles for liberal democracy over narrow, short-term business and strategic interests. We want Western opinion-leaders to be genuine friends of real people, not supporters of illiberal governments.