Trump And The World

Trump And Bastille Day, How To Spoil France's Celebration Of Freedom

Why does France want to share its annual national party with a president that American history itself is already rejecting? In the UK, instead, a petition against Trump's state visit has a million signatures.

Le roi des Kong
Le roi des Kong

-OpEd-

PARIS — I love the United States, the land of all manner of excess, where one can choose between being a transhumanist, a vegan or a poker player. The land of audacity, where democracies can continually experiment with any possible future. Nothing distresses me more than the "anti-American obsession" of the French, to use the phrase of Jean-François Revel. Over the past year, I've traveled to Washington to play a small role in Jackie, to New Hampshire for a libertarian festival, and to Colorado to investigate the legalization of cannabis (a success, by the way). I am also very happy to have recently become a Young Leader of the French-American Foundation.

It is thus in the name of a certain pro-American obsession that I deplore the presence of Donald Trump in Paris for France's July 14th annual Bastille Day ceremonies.

What is the pretext being cited for such an invitation? The centenary of the date the United States entered into the war against Germany in 1917! There is cause for at least a dose of awkwardness with regard to our European allies. Celebrating the role played by the United States to defeat the Nazi Third Reich in World War II was one thing. But don't be fooled by the history of World War I, which had nothing to do with a struggle for liberty. It was nothing more than meaningless carnage between nation-states, which decimated a generation and obliterated the dream of peace and progress. Are we still here to boast about military strength, territorial conquest and the honor of a sacrificed population? The only responsible attitude would be to collectively reflect on the death wish of nationalism. I doubt that the champion of a warlike protectionism, Donald Trump, is the most appropriate voice to speak on this subject.

Trump has sufficiently expressed the contempt he has for human rights.

We should not forget the symbolic value carried by July 14. Established in 1880, the date of the national holiday refers to both the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, and its one-year anniversary on July 14, 1790, known as the "Fête de la Fédération". As noted on the website of the Elysée presidential palace: "The fête de la fédération softened the violent character of the taking of the Bastille, to create a moderate celebration ... for a common project." It is hard to imagine anything farther removed from our democratic tradition than Donald Trump's authoritarian desires: his denouncing the judiciary, the use and abuse of executive orders, discriminating against citizens because of their religious beliefs.

Donald Trump has sufficiently expressed the contempt he has for human rights so as not to merit a place of honor where it is being celebrated.

Trump's presence along the Champs-Elysées for the July 14 parade is a political error that undermines those in the United States, including members of the Republican party, who are trying to limit the power of a President who mixes incompetence, nepotism and even signs of dementia. How can the most cynical of believers in realpolitik think that such an erratic personality will somehow be persuaded by insistent calls for democratic ideals? Why would France ruin its own party for a president that American history will reject as a regrettable dysfunction of its institutions? What can explain the urgency to be entangled with a head of state already so deeply at odds with his own people? At a time when France is working to reestablish its voice on the world stage, why do we feel the need to defile the values we claim to represent?

In the United Kingdom, a petition against Donald Trump's state visit has already collected over one million signatures. The British want to spare their queen the company of such a boor. Why does the French president need to impose him on us?

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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