I was deeply impressed by Noam Chomsky's perspectives on political dissent ["Tribunal ignoring US role, says Chomsky", The Phnom Penh Post, March 27, 2009]. In the US, Chomsky is well-known for his radical ideas about US foreign policy. He is a renowned linguist, but what made him a vital political commentator was his strong opposition to the Vietnam War. Chomsky saw nothing wrong with the North Vietnamese struggle and nothing wrong with the Vietnamese troops invading Cambodia to topple the Khmer Rouge.
In the interview, Chomsky addresses US support for the Khmer Rouge. I don't intend to challenge Chomsky on his sharp criticism of the US and the Khmer Rouge tribunal. It is not simply a matter of pointing fingers and assigning blame, as depicted in the amusing "Sacravatoons No 1348 ["Point the finger", at www.sacrava.blogspot.com]
The Khmer Rouge tribunal has a more fundamental meaning than just pointing fingers at each other. The central goals of this tribunal are the achievement of national healing, national reconciliation, a national collective consciousness, national unity, the strengthening of Cambodia's judicial system and the elimination of impunity, among others. In addition to these expected outcomes, the tribunal will also help Cambodia become a "full and progressive sovereign state". Political thinker Charles Tilly has argued that "war makes a state" in the context of European state-making. If this theory is applied to Cambodia, then the agony endured by the Cambodian people in past wars and under the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge can enlighten all Cambodian people and their political leaders. As the Khmer proverb says: "After the dark sky, the bright moon and stars will shine". Will the Khmer Rouge tribunal yield such fruit?
The answer wholly depends on Cambodian political leaders, Cambodian people and their national collective consciousness. If they see the Khmer Rouge tribunal simply as part of a political game, the "full and progressive sovereign state" of Cambodia might disappear. Moreover, if the Cambodian people and their collective consciousness view the tribunal simply as punishment for a handful of perpetrators, the "full and progressive sovereign state" of Cambodia might also disappear.
It should be noted that the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the independence of the court, and the expansion of the number of defendants - including current political leaders - will enrich the tribunal, not distort the court or cause instability in Cambodia at all. The benefits to be had from a fair court are more important than the thought of social instability. The participation from all political leaders and the people can enhance the achievements of the court. The benefits of thinking outside the box in relation to the tribunal are more beautiful and elegant than just assigning blame and pointing fingers.
PhD candidate in political science
University of Hawaii at Manoa
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