During the campaigning for yesterday’s election, much attention was given to the anti-Vietnamese rhetoric of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha.
They both spewed equally shocking racist sentiments, using the expletive term “yuon” to refer to Vietnamese people and even alleging that the Tuol Sleng torture centre never existed but was invented by Vietnam.
Presumably, then, the conviction of Duch, the centre’s commander, and the cases now being investigated by the United Nations tribunal, are all without foundation.
Really, it defies comprehension.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has many faults, from blatant nepotism to media coercion to crudely threatening that if he lost civil war would result.
But he has not descended to spouting the kind of racist bile that issued from Rainsy and his team and which seems to be a key part of their party’s ideology.
Yes, the opposition has been treated unfairly, but that is hardly unusual in this region.
Compared to how authoritarian governments in Malaysia and Singapore dealt with oppositionists over the past half-century, Phnom Penh’s attitude looks rather tolerant.
Why then did Rainsy play the anti-Vietnamese card so flagrantly?
Well, any bash-the-foreigners line is always popular among ordinary folks, especially those swayed by a xenophobic vernacular press.
But that does not excuse Rainsy putting himself in the same league as Enoch Powell, Orval Faubus and Myanmar’s anti-Muslim cleric Wirathu.
Nor is it acceptable, after repeatedly using the vulgar “yuon” term, to say that while it may not be politically correct, it is not insulting.
One might well claim other non-PC terms like nigger, yid, chink and nip are also not hurtful or derogatory.
No, it is despicable nonsense, and worse, it is even more dangerous than the civil war nonsense spouted by the PM last month.
For remember, it is not long since the Thai Embassy here was destroyed and lives threatened after equally idiotic remarks by a Thai actress.
Rainsy’s rhetoric could lead to similar violence and even lynchings, and possibly result in the Cambodian Embassy in Hanoi being sacked.
But please don’t misunderstand, it does not mean that the Vietnamese should be let off the hook. Their condescension toward Cambodians, who are often viewed as rather backward wretches, is also contemptible.
Perhaps the best that can be said is that it does not compare to the intense animosity the Vietnamese feel towards China, which, like the sentiment Rainsy voiced, is based on repeated invasions and occupations.
The last one occurred when Beijing sought to punish Vietnam for invading Cambodia and deposing the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge regime.
Vietnam’s action might have been excused as a rare occasion when two wrongs do make a right – if only most of its 150,000 troops had not stayed on and occupied Cambodia for the next 10 years.
China’s “punishment” – its invasion and occupation of Vietnam’s northern provinces in February 1979 – was one of the most ham-handed and bloodiest conflicts this region has ever seen.
Both sides suffered heavy casualties, including civilians, and photographs of the devastation are shocking.
One needs to work hard to find them, however, because both Beijing and Hanoi rigorously suppress all public records of this bloodbath.
On Martyrs’ Day in Vietnam, the victories over France and the United States are glorified, but the recent war with China is unmentioned. It has been air-brushed out of existence on both sides of the border.
As the Beijing scholar Yan Lianke noted: “Not a word is written here about how many Chinese or Vietnamese died in the pointless war with Vietnam in the late 1970s.”
But it has been extensively described elsewhere, especially in Nayan Chanda’s brilliant book Brother Enemy: The War after the War, which both Rainsy and Kem Sokha ought to re-read.
If, after doing so, they continue making stupidly irrational and wholly bigoted statements, then they deserve to be sent to re-education camps, preferably in Ratanakkiri, not the 8th arrondissement of Paris.