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
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
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
And perhaps kouprey will fly.