November 15, 2011
CAMBODIA: Something is happening among Cambodians on which democrats can build
In my column in this space in August, “A look at the future of Cambodia’s youth and education,” I posited that, “If youth is the future of the country and education is a sine qua non element of a country’s development, without change in the status quo ante, Cambodia’s future will be anything but bright.” In my concluding sentence, I suggested that, “Broad-based application of Buddhist values and principles can help Cambodian society make its way to a future those on the current path may never find.”
Then last month, in my column, “Perhaps Cambodians’ soft power will advance their struggle for rights and freedom,” I noted with relief that I may have overlooked what could be a promising trend in Khmer behavior.
The 2000-year-old Khmer tradition in “smoh trang, korup, bamroeur, karpear” (“to be loyal to, to respect, to serve, to defend”) the divine leader (king) that has boxed in Cambodians’ creative thinking, has not disappeared. Rather, more Cambodians are developing self-awareness; find ease in speaking openly, even if what they say is not popular; and are demonstrating analytical, rational, and thoughtful voices in their writing.
I noted this apparent “new trend” stands opposed to the existing profane “free expression” that has polluted public discourse among Cambodians. In my September article, I referenced an e-mail from a Khmer reader, Samreth, who is disgusted at the lack of civility and rational discussion in the contemporary Cambodian environment. He suggested that in order to rebuild a respected and respectable society Khmers need “individuals with quality thoughts.” Samreth sees what is and contemplates on what ought to be.
American children who are taught in their own history of the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness do not hesitate to fight against any threat to those inalienable rights, whether a Republican or a Democrat is in power. Why do Cambodians seem not to have the capacity to transfer the 2,000-year-old diktat of duties and responsibilities of citizens to the divine leader or god-king to ideas, ideals, principles and concepts of rights, freedom and democracy? Man dies. Ideas, ideals, principles don’t die.