High Noon, Thailand

Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling:

The linkage system at The Bangkok Post is nearly impossible, so I will simply print the following letter-to-the-editor in full. If you want to confirm it, you are welcome to sign up to their membership system and search for "Democracy at High Noon":

The headline news of a 48-hour ultimatum to Thaksin to leave his position as prime minister, even a caretaker one, reminded me of the classic film High Noon with the final scene of a duel at noon between Marshal Gary Cooper and the Outlaw. Under the current scenario, the difference is that the one without legal backing is viewed by some and most media as the good side, while the one with legal backing is viewed as the outlaw. The righteousness of our society is now being tested.

Similarly, the photo of the long line of demonstrators marching along Silom Road reminded me of Robert Browning's story, The Pied Piper of Hamelin. After the town mayor having broken his promise, the Pied Piper took revenge with his musical charm by leading the town's children to a cave, the entrance of which was subsequently blocked forever by a landslide. Are we leading to that fate with sweet incitements from the Pied Piper, PAD?

Similarly, the "due-process-review" of the "wrongdoings" of Thaksin and his family at Sam Luang, outside Government House, at CP Silom Road and in front of the Singapore Embassy reminded me of scenes of a kangaroo court in so many cowboy films, in which the accuser one-sidedly accuses the 'defendant' and calls for the man to be hanged, with a chorus response for the same from the crowd. The only difference now is no life is involved and only a man's character: "Get out, Thaksin".

I blame Thaksin for allowing such a scenario of wastage and vacuum to develop, by being arrogant and making a number of enemies on the way up and missing the opportunity of getting the opposition to join in the election when given a last chance by the opposition.

He should have known at that time he had nothing to negotiate and should have signed on the blank space provided by the opposition's draft of commitment, but instead pettily required the other parties to recognise his position and change the name of the document. I blame the leading opposition parties for being Machiavellian in encouraging others with no legal position to manage and control the events, hoping for a jump-start on the political gains while others do the dirty work. They are ignoring the legal framework of the constitution which they played a part in drafting.

I blame those "do-gooders" for going to an extreme just to get personal satisfaction to pay back Thaksin for his past authoritarian deeds against some of them.

It's good to know that, even in distant Thailand, Gary Cooper still rides tall in the minds of men. High Noon was cited occasionally during the Iraq war debate, I recall, with Bush in Cooper's role -- trying to get a reluctant France and others to live up to their obligations under UN Security Council resolution after resolution, while dealing with the sneers of Iraq's henchman, Russia.

I remember a professor I had once telling me about a famous paper, whose name and author I cannot now recall, that argued that the Gangster film was so successful in Cold War America because it was the only film genre that was allowed to express real tragedy. During the Cold War, the paper held, it was necessary for Hollywood to show the American way of life as being glorious and given to happy endings -- so it was argued, in a faraway time when Hollywood could be envisioned as aiming at the glorification of America. The gangster film was the only exception to the rule that all films had to have happy endings: because the gangster was a criminal, he was allowed to be miserable.

There's probably something to the argument; it is doubtless that the best two films of their age were the first two Godfather movies. They were great precisely because they were tragedies, and as Aristotle held, tragedy is the highest form of drama.

That aside, it is not the gangster but the Western to which we keep looking back for answers about how to live. No man wishes to live in a tragedy -- not, at least, past the time when he finds that he really is. When sophisticates scorn America as the land of the cowboy, that's worth remembering. We ought to be proud to be cowboys. Every American is entitled to wear the Stetson.

By the way, if you're interested in the situation in Thailand, the Post is a good source even though it makes it almost impossible to find articles posted less recently than today. The other major English-language newspaper is The Nation, which is the subject of some controversy just now.

Whether the newspaper is running an information operation against the Prime Minister is not a small question, giving the scale of the protests and disruption. The original article they are accused of fabricating is here. What The Nation is suggesting may seem ceremonial, but you must remember that Thais revere their monarchy, as Thailand is the only nation in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by any Western power, and their kings saw them through that period in freedom. To be stripped of even a ceremonial post relating to the honor of the King would be a major blow to a Prime Minister.

The fact that we are talking about kings and prime ministers, royal duties and a nation never colonized by the West makes the original letter all the more outstanding, of course. Why, in such a circumstance, would your mind turn to Gary Cooper, the lonely marshal of a dusty town in the American West?

But it does.

Troublesome news

Troublesome news:

In news that at first brush appears uniformly bad, there is a noteworthy criminal trial in Afghanistan.

A man is charged with a heinous act against the social and cultural order of his homeland. Abdul Rahman has converted from the religion of his birth (Islam) to another religion (Christianity), and has refused to recant this change of faith.

While adherence to Christianity may not a capital crime in Afghanistan, deserting Islam to adhere to Christianity apparently is. Thus, Mr. Rahman would face trial as an Islamic apostate.

The appearance of trouble in this news seems obvious: Afghanistan was the first experiment in replacing autocratic Islamist government with an elected government. One of the implicit hopes of that experiment was a more-religiously-tolerant government on the ground in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, many Western leaders were a hesitant to attempt to force an American-style political culture in Afghanistan. The attitude was to let the Afghans decide what kind of government they wanted, how that government would interact with existing tribal authority and allegiance, and what kind of freedoms the government would allow.

These are all general impressions that I received during the earlier phases of the nation-building process. The overall attitude at work was that Afghan control of the developing Afghan government was a good thing, as long as it didn't involve people who were giving aid and comfort to terrorist agencies.

The case of Abdul Rahman seems to give the lie to the assumption that the results of this nation-building process would be uniformly good.

There has been much blogging about Mr. Rahman's case in certain circles--Michelle Malkin has apparently led the way.

Most noteworthy is the international politicking that has been going on around this case. Imagine for a moment that Mr. Rahman had openly confessed his change of faith during the middle of the year 2000. Would the Taliban have allowed Mr. Rahman to escape trial and execution? Would they even listen if statesmen from around the world begged that he not be tried in court for his change of faith? Would the Council on American-Islamic Relations even care to issue a statement about it?

This is, at least, a glimmer of hope in this case. Afghanistan is still a place where Muslims are discouraged by culture and law from abandoning Islam--but the leaders of Afghanistan are trying to avoid this trial, because it makes them look bad in the internatinal community. This is happening only because America and her allies have taken an interest in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, but done it in such a way as to give the Afghans more power over its own future as a nation.

There are noises being made about an insanity plea of some sort. As noted by Ms. Malkin, the government of Afghanistan could declare the Abdul Rahman unfit to stand trial on grounds of mental impairment. This would allow them to save face inside their own country, by not openly letting a man get away with apostasy to Islam. It would also allow them to save face in front of the rest of the world, by not putting him on trial.

I have some misgivings over this tactic--mainly because this declaration appears to use a very loose definition of "mental impairment", and partly because it may accidentally declare all such changes of belief to be evidence of mental deficiency.

As with the recent imbroglio over management of facilities at major American ports, there is apparently no answer that will satisfy all sides. Someone--possibly everyone--who has an interest in this case will walk away partially dissatisfied with the outcome. But there is a chance that a precedent will be set against future prosecutions of this kind in Afghanistan, which is probably a good thing.

The very fact that Abdul Rahman might not go to trial--that the Western world can even hope to alter the course of events--gives some signs of hope. It is possible for the Western world to open a dialogue with the leaders of the Islamic world over religious freedom.

How long would such a discussion go on before it bears any fruit? Will an official change of law with respect to religious conversion ever take place in Afghanistan? What will the other Islamic leaders of the world think if Afghanistan's law was changed? Can the leaders of the Muslim world convince their people that such a change is a good change to make?

Such a change would be significant, It would also require time and patience on the part of the leaders of the Western world to bring it about. Do the moral and political leaders of the Western world have the fortitude and patience to work towards this goal?

I do not think it can be underemphasized, though--this possibility would not exist if the United States had not led a coalition of military forces into Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban. Without that effort, all the possibilities I mention would have been impossibiities.

Foreign Policy After Iraq

Foreign Policy After Iraq:

For those interested, I have a post up on the topic at BlackFive. B5 is off sipping fruity drinks enjoying himself on a well-deserved trip, and I promised to help cover in his absence. I haven't done much until now, though, due to an unusually busy week in 'real life.'

Ah, well. You might enjoy what I hope is a meaty post on policy and strategy.

Quirt Evans Returns:

An update to last week's post, brought to you by the fighting men of the Coalition.

We are glad to see that the CPT hostages were rescued in a military operation. Their statement is more principled than gracious, at least to the military; it's quite gracious to the hostage-takers.

Well, I have principles too: I am glad to see the kind-hearted saved from danger, and the smiting of the wicked as well. I trust that any members of the Swords of Righteousness brigade who were captured will be treated far kinder than the Christian Peacemakers were; and granted the protections that the Geneva Conventions say they do not merit, the ones reserved by the Conventions to honorable soldiers, but which we yield to almost everyone.

Of course, it is possible they will instead be turned over to the government of Iraq. In that case, the CPT will get what it says it wants: the Iraqis of the Swords of Righteousness will not be handled by the evil occupiers, but by their gentle fellow nationals. I assume we all understand what would happen to the kidnappers in such a case; but presumably this says nothing about the relative virtue of the Coalition and the Iraqi civil government, as we have already established in the statement that the Coalition is the root of all the problems in that nation.