Expats in Cambodia: watch where you throw the fruit

Shakespeare famously wrote: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”. That’s true enough, but some of us play the parts of the audience and/or critics. As the Cambodian election approaches, the members of the audience who watch the play from the balcony seats, those with a “First World” background, feel compelled to throw rotten fruit and cry “Booh!” from their exalted position. I’d like to suggest they leave the theatre of Cambodia; watch the play that’s taking place on their home turf; and let Cambodia decide for itself who should take the leading role in the next act of the Cambodian play.

Political rally in Cambodia. Let’s let Cambodians decide for themselves. Click image for image source and story.

While Cambodians quite rightly focus on their domestic issues, we face issues that are global in scope. At the moment, some of the biggest issues revolve around Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. While our leaders, the ones we hold up as examples to follow, pillory “whistleblowers” and do all they can to stifle meaningful dissent, isn’t it a little silly to complain about Hun Sen’s human rights record? We’ve got much bigger problems to tackle.

I know it’s easy to pick on Cambodia. You get the support of the community of similarly ethnocentric expats and don’t have to face the criticism of Cambodians, most of whom don’t even know you, your blog, Twitter account or favourite forum exists. You get to feel culturally and intellectually superior without having to put your life on the line. Before you get too puffed up with self righteous indignation, though, try to open your mind just a crack and find out what true courage is all about.

This post was inspired by a Guardian article about Edward Snowden. I strongly urge you to read every word of Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations. If you can’t be bothered, maybe these few snippets will encourage you to click the link and read it.

You think the U.S. is the land of freedom? Snowden disagrees:

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

You think those of us who mistrust the motives of the United States government and its NATO allies are paranoid conspiracy theorists? Snowden, an NSA and CIA insider, knows exactly what the government is capable of doing:

“Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.

Do you believe Snowden leaked those documents for the money or the publicity?

He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

Awhile back, I wrote a blog about propaganda and used a Cambodian’s VOA blog as an example. At issue was a directive issued by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications  the author asserted would “eventually eliminate Phnom Penh cyber cafes altogether.” The directive stated that Internet cafes should not be located within 500 metres of schools and that persons under the age of 18 should not be allowed to enter cyber cafes. It cited “dangers that the Internet poses, such as terrorism, economic crimes and the distribution of pornography.” Cambodian NGO LICADHO saw it as “a transparent attempt to block part of the population’s access to independent sources of information through news sites and social media.” A lot of expats, too, jumped on that bandwagon.

Edward Snowden

As so often happens here, nothing came of the directive and even if it had, determined young Cambodians would have found a way to gain access to the Internet. Just as they ride 3-abreast on motorbikes, they would have pooled their resources to buy and share a smart phone, PC or laptop and continued playing games and posting on Facebook as usual. The critics, Cambodian and expat alike, were making a mountain out of a molehill, in my opinion. It didn’t bother me that Bun Tharum expressed his opinion in print, but the misplaced self-righteousness of the Western critics really irked me. Since when can we really take the moral high ground?

Free speech and government transparency are things of the past in the U.S. and elsewhere, if ever they really existed. Americans, including Edward Snowden, hoped Obama’s election would turn the tide, but were severely disappointed. As Snowden was quoted as saying in the Guardian article cited above:

[I] “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”

“Hang on,” you say. “Free speech isn’t dead. Your rant proves it.” Yes, I’m free to express my opinion, but I’m just a voice crying in the wilderness. Free speech is obviously dead in cases like Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, who reach a global audience and provide solid proof of American human rights abuses. The “threat to American security” they pose is “transparently” a threat to the security of powerful forces who don’t want their dirty secrets to be revealed.

So, expats in Cambodia, watch where you throw the rotten fruit at election time. Cambodia affords us the opportunity to live freely and independently. Can you honestly say that about your home country? If you can, then what are you doing here?

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About Rob Schneider

Rob Schneider is a writer based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where he has lived since 2006.

One Response to Expats in Cambodia: watch where you throw the fruit

  1. Pingback: Expats in Cambodia: watch where you throw the fruit - Sihanoukville Cambodia Journal - Wandering Salsero

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