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Kampuchea Krom: the friction after the facts

Kampuchea Krom: the friction after the facts

Bora Touch's very detailed critique (Post, April 21, 2006) of my article Kampuchea

Krom: The Facts Behind the Friction (Post, March 10) was a welcome change from the

vitriolic emails I have been receiving since I first published the piece in March,

if indicative that he has too much time on his hands, and too much faith in unsourced

revisionist history.

The hatred and irrationality in the personal attacks levelled at me in the past two

months have shocked me deeply. I have been accused of being a "red brain container,"

that I am "in the pay of Hanoi," that due to "marriage problems"

I hate the Khmer and seek revenge, and various other charming statements involving

my relationship to the "yuon masters," some of which seem anatomically

impossible.

More disturbing have been the letters saying "It is easy to shoot down stupid

academics" and variations thereof, and the attempt by a group of Cambodians

living in Australia to seek an injunction against any future publication of my opinion

on Kampuchea Krom, Cambodian-Vietnamese bilateral relations, and the word "yuon."

It is amazing that people can be so selective in the application of the principle

of free speech. When Sam Rainsy is threatened for his views, there cannot be enough

of it; when a simple academic delves into the Cambodian past and explodes a myth

that has perpetuated hatred between two neighbouring peoples, suddenly free speech

seems less palatable.

This level of negativity in response to a column that was meant to inform people

of events they otherwise may not have known of, based upon Cambodian primary sources,

is beyond comprehension.

I am grateful to those who have written thanking me for the 'Lost in Time' series,

particularly the many Cambodian students I have taught over the years. They may not

agree with everything I say, but they articulate their disagreement without resorting

to cheap shots and attacks upon my character.

The older generation is mired in a tradition of Cambodian scholarship in which the

veracity of one's work is directly associated with status. Thus appending an ex-ambassador's

name to a letter is seen as increasing its veracity. Thus questioning the prestige

of the university from which I obtained my PhD, continually reiterating the fact

that I am female and therefore prone to emotional, nonsensical outbursts, and pointing

out that I am a foreigner diminish my status, in the eyes of those trapped in a social,

political and methodological time warp.

Yes, I am a foreigner. However, having spent 18 years living and working in and on

Cambodia, I have a fairly good understanding of Cambodian culture and society today.

I would not presume to compare myself to a Cambodian (even those who jet in from

Auckland or Long Beach every few years dispersing largesse to their extended families

and enjoying the elevated status that being overseas Khmer brings) in terms of cultural

comprehension, but the merit in being a foreigner, albeit with extensive experience

in Cambodia, is my objectivity. The adverse reactions to my article are subjective,

even biased, and hold no weight.

I stand by my assertion that the word "yuon" is pejorative in Cambodian

society today. I am not disputing that technically "yuon" is an ethnic

appellation. It is the way that the word is used that is pejorative. People who protest

that "yuon" is a harmless term of ethnicity are using the same arguments

that whites in the US had for the word "Negro." What matters is how the

person on the receiving end of the word interprets it and the intent of the person

using it. The letters I have received refer continually to the "yuon masters,"

"the stinking yuon," and how the "yuon enemy" are even now seeking

to take over Cambodia through their puppets in the Cambodian government. These are

hardly positive epithets.

This episode has at least dispelled my naïve conviction that if Cambodians knew

what their own records said about the two events constantly held up as evidence of

a historical tradition of Vietnamese aggression prior to the 20th century, perhaps

they would rethink their hatred of Vietnamese living in Cambodia and be less inclined

to turn a blind eye when Vietnamese fishing villages are massacred; that perhaps

they would be less suspicious of the motives of the Vietnamese government when treaties

between the two countries are signed, and see such events as two countries moving

forward into a shared future of goodwill and cooperation; that perhaps those who

feel alienated from Cambodia after many years of living elsewhere will stop perpetuating

this hatred in a frantic attempt to have an impact upon Cambodian politics, however

tangentially.

And perhaps kouprey will fly.

Trudy Jacobsen

Phnom Penh

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