By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth
PACIFIC DAILY NEWS (Guam)
The Khmer blog KI-Media recently has been publishing in sections Gene Sharp's "From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation," by the Albert Einstein Institution, that provides significant guidelines to "assist thought and planning" in the fight against dictatorship.
Sharp hopes his study on "how a dictatorship can be disintegrated" would be useful "wherever people live under domination and desire to be free."
Sharp presupposes people who live under a dictatorship can distinguish between a dictatorship and a democracy, and there are those with a "desire to be free."
Enormous work and effort are required from fractious democrats and rights activists who fight powerful ruling tyrants. In Cambodia, deeply rooted old habits and thoughts stand opposite imaginative, creative and innovative thinking.
Some 70 percent of the people polled said Cambodia under autocracy is headed in "the right direction." Khmer and foreign partisans of political "stability" ignore civil rights violations, while opponents of autocracy speak of "people power."
Yet power doesn't exist until the people understand it is actually in their hands; until democrats and rights activists help them to believe the truth that no power, force or barrier can withstand their determined efforts for rights and freedom.
More than ever, Cambodians need democrats and rights activists to lead them. Through enlightened and efficient leadership, the citizens become aware of the parameters of oppression and develop the confidence that will bring down any dictator.
'Pigs don't fly'
Some readers complain that I write a lot about better thinking but don't tell them what and how it will help defeat Cambodia's autocracy and keep Khmers Khmer. In some ways, the complaint itself is evidence of a lack of analytical thought.
I don't normally read comments posted by anonymous bloggers, whose expletives, racial slurs or demonization of opponents affirm the bloggers' true values, but every now and then I peruse them.
Some people blog to relieve their frustration and unhappiness -- which is useful to detect the symptoms of a disease, if not the disease itself.
A blogger took offense at my remarks that all minds can be taught, and responded with "pigs don't fly" -- i.e., some minds simply cannot improve, just like a horse refuses to drink even if led to the water. There can't be change without a belief that it is possible. Are some unredeemable intellectually?
Pigs don't fly. We know that. But human minds do develop and grow. We know that, too.
Pol Pot decided that a people so "stupid" as to refuse his ways and thoughts must be destroyed and re-educated through forced labor and "tbaung chawb" (hoe blade) to strike the necks of those with "incorrect" thinking. There is no gain to keep them, no loss to eliminate them, the Khmer Rouge said. Thus, Pol Pot killed the nation.
When I was a child, my father often reminded me that if I didn't use my brain to read and reflect, the brain's lack of exercise would kill me, just as if I denied my stomach food, the stomach would contract and shrink and I would die.
Peasants, businessmen, the elite and those of royal heritage are human, each with "one kilo of brain" that can think. Royals may know much about the throne, but peasants know much about the rice that feeds the royals.
Pigs won't fly. But the human brain has taken man to the moon and back.
I had just passed my doctoral comprehensive examinations and defended my dissertation proposal at the University of Michigan when Cambodia's republican regime tapped me to take a post at the Khmer Republic Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Long Boret, the foreign minister, who examined a political bulletin I edited in Ann Arbor, called me to join his delegation to the United Nations, observed my work, and I agreed to serve the republican embassy under Ambassador Um Sim. Both Boret and Sim gave me enough room to apply my creativity, innovation and analytical thinking in my work. They saw some tangible change. Both were interested in results and not gossip and backbiting.
In his last words to me before the collapse of the republican government, Long Boret told me to prepare to join him in Phnom Penh. Boret was executed by Pol Pot's men on April 17, 1975.
The situation was different after I joined the Khmer People's National Liberation Front in the field in 1980. With a degree of freedom to think and act as a member of the front's executive committee, I applied my creativity, innovation and analytical thinking. Objective observers could affirm some positive change.
But those qualities also gained me enemies, even within our ranks. My problems mounted. But that is a story for another day, if ever I have the desire to share my perspective.
I subscribe to Edmund Burke's philosophy that traditions link the dead, the living and those to be born. But I distinguish those traditions that are barriers to surviving in an advancing world -- like blind obedience and unquestionable loyalty -- and those that uphold a people's culture and integrity -- like taking off shoes when entering home or clasping hands to say thank you.
It's anyone's prerogative to prefer one regime over another. But I think it's not good thinking to hate a monarchy or a republic. Professor Thomas Szasz once said, "A system is not stupid, the people in it are."
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.