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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - I see your counterpunch and raise you several shots to the foot

I see your counterpunch and raise you several shots to the foot

A man looks at a map of Democratic Kampuchea made by skulls and bones
A man looks at a map of Democratic Kampuchea made by skulls and bones. Photograph: REUTERS

Doing the rounds of the Post’s email server this week was an article in the latest edition of Counterpunch, the United States’ go-to online newsletter for burnt-out lefty curmudgeondom. Penned by Israel Shamir—known for his Chicken Little warnings about the dreaded Jews being responsible for everything from the dreadful standards of daytime television to the use of high-fructose corn syrup in soda—“Pol Pot Revisited” takes what could be described as a rosier view of the Khmer Rouge era than what the general consensus dictates.

“Surprisingly,” Shamir writes, “Cambodians have no bad memories of that period. This is quite an amazing discovery for an infrequent visitor.”

Oh really? I guess those civil parties at the tribunal are just trolling proceedings for their own amusement. We’d be curious to know who Mr. Shamir’s been speaking with. Has he been catching up with Nuon Chea over panini and lattes in the ECCC cafeteria? Do his brief Cambodian sojourns take place exclusively in a few isolated villages in Anlong Veng? Has he been channelling the ghost of Ta Mok through a ouija board?*

Sadly, we don’t know, as Shamir has decided to be coy about his sources – presumably in the fear that government cadres would come for them in the middle of the night, lock them up in an abandoned school, subject them to weeks of beatings, torture and coprophagia before making them sign false confessions and shooting them in a field on the outskirts of the capital. Whoops! We’re confusing our regimes again.

We must admit we were swayed when Shamir provided conclusive proof that the KR genocides were either inept or out-and-out fabrications: he alerted us to the fact that the population of Cambodia has doubled since 1970. We eagerly await his next Counterpunch article, “Population of Europe has increased by a factor of six since 1939, therefore World War II never happened.”

There are certain things you can do as an outsider in Cambodia. You can ask, if the world is supposedly committed to justice here, why hasn’t Henry Kissinger been strung upside down in a public square and given the Mussolini treatment? You can lament the rapacious capitalism of the last two decades and you can be outraged at its excesses. You can despair at the development programs and businesses which have institutionalised the presence of western carpetbaggers, making their services indispensable and perpetuating a gravy train instead of gradually handing over knowledge and control to locals.

Then, there are those that dare to dream, as Shamir does. If you’re one of the people who never met an anti-Western putsch you didn’t like, and if you had a casual disregard for overwhelming empirical evidence, you could go down the Chomsky route. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time some blowhard decided to speak on behalf of the people of this country.

No doubt everyone with fond memories of tilling the earth with the proverbial gun in their back for a bowl of rice a day** will be toasting the name of Israel Shamir tonight. Finally, some authoritative balance in the whole debate over whether or not the Khmer Rouge regime was pathologically fucking insane!

*One line in the article reads: “In order to listen to the other side, I travelled to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, the memorial where the alleged victims were killed and buried.” So we’re assuming Shamir at least has some rudimentary ability in speaking to the dead.

**Except the days they exported most of the rice harvest to China in exchange for assault weapons, amirite?

For more information about this article please contact our 7Days editor Sean Gleeson at: ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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