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A First Step in the Healing Process

July 27, 2010 2 comments

Victims of Comrade Duch and Tuol Sleng.

**A word on the subject matter: The themes of genocide and crimes against humanity are not simple or easily discussed topics. I will try to approach them with aplomb but if it does not come out that way, know that I am aware of the complexity of the themes and tragedies and am only trying to disseminate the information to facilitate understanding for all. Thank you.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or Cambodia Tribunal, handed down its first verdict in relation to atrocities committed in the Democratic Kampuchea; the regime implemented by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. Comrade Duch, otherwise known by his birth-name Kaing Guek Eav, was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison for his time spent as the commandant of the Khmer Rouge prison S-21 (Tuol Sleng) where upwards of 17,000 men, women and children were tortured and murdered. It is a first step toward justice for the survivors of the genocide and a first step in the healing process of a society that is a long way from coming to terms with the horrors it experienced at the hands of its own citizens.

Very few societies on this earth have experienced genocide, overcome it and come to terms with it. In fact, you can probably only name one: Germany. Through a mixture of reconciliation (West and East German partition undoubtedly helped in that it allowed two separate societies to develop – not positively for the East – and gain a whole host of other issues that superseded the past.), rule of law (the Nuremberg Trials) and restriction, Germany has been able to, healthily, move on from the horrors of World War II and the Third Reich. On another hand you have Rwanda; a country working towards societal health but still in that process rather than at the end. Peaceful since its genocide in 1994, Rwanda has used a different tact in moving on. President Paul Kagame has established an essentially authoritarian state (depending on who you ask, actually) where ethnic tensions are buried rather than dealt with; there is evidence that this is not working 16 years on and that ethnic animosities continue to fester dangerously close to the surface.. These two cases lead us to Cambodia and its own, unique handling of a similar atrocity.

Last year, the New York Times published a story shedding light on the growing generational understanding and remembrance gap, concerning the Khmer Rouge and its reign of terror, in Cambodian society. As new children are born in Cambodia, parents speak less, teachers teach less and children inquire less about the horrors that seem like only distant memories to them. Why is this? Why is a society, still closely linked to its past, collectively forgetting – or rather, trying to – such a monstrous tragedy?

Victims of the Killing Fields. Photo by Stevemuhkween, Sept. 2007, WikimediaCommons

There are a myriad of points and theories to discuss here, but I will touch on three in particular. First, as simple as it seems, it is in human nature to forgive and forget rather than confront. It it not our natural predilection to have difficult conversations on subjects of death, sadness and betrayal with friend, family and neighbor; it is infinitely easier to bury those issues in the depths of our collective conscious. This is true when we have a tiff with our significant other so you can imagine how it is an easier way forward for a society struggling with reconciliation of past crimes.

Second, there has been – to the credit of the Cambodian government – an attempt at concerted reconciliation; memorialization, truth commissions, prosecution, etc. There are two truths hidden in this attempt, however. A government led reconciliation, without a base in the grassroots level, will continually come up short in its attempts to bring about change. No matter how tactful a government is, popular society deems when it will get on with life and deal with issues. If government and its populous are not on the same page, true reconciliation well be near impossible. Reconciliation also, inevitably, reintroduces some of the crimes’ perpetrators back into the affected society. This can have the effect of alienation – a sense of injustice – and can also led to the negation/hinderance of the reconciliation process. (Re: Rwanda & Iraq.) This has happened in Cambodia. Remember, yesterday’s verdict if the first for the Extraordinary Chambers that was established in 2006; 27 years after Pol Pot’s fall.

Third, as they say, time heals all wounds. A quarter century, while a quarter of most human’s lives, is a pittance in the grand scheme of coming to terms with events that destroyed a society. Cambodia may simply not be ready to confront its demons.

So with the conviction and sentencing (too light?) of the evil Comrade Duch, Cambodia takes a giant step forward toward justice and eradicating the lingering banality within its society. It is the first of many that it will have to be take. I hope that the journey continues and we can point to Cambodia as a case-study in how to overcome massive societal upheaval. Time will tell.

The Week in Fodder

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Another Friday and another Week in Fodder. Some new formatting, the first Poll of the Week and plenty of scrumptious morsels of knowledge, you’ll be sure to find something to like. Al-Shabaab, the Iranian scientist, the Barefoot Bandit, Eskil Ronningsbakken (You have to read on to find out who he is!), 18th century ships at Ground Zero and the lamest moments in technology… we hope you enjoy!

World Views

Al-Shabaab leaves Somalia.

Ugandan Blasts: Last Sunday, as revelers watched the finale of Africa’s first World Cup, the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab struck, utilizing suicide bombers, two viewing locations in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.  Killing 74 civilians, the attack was the first by the hard-line militia outside of its Somali homeland. Heavily linked to al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the transitional Somali government for over three years. It’s widely believed – disputed by some, however – that Uganda was specifically targeted for its soldiers that are in Somalia protecting the transitional government as part of the larger AU-mandated peacekeeping force. Al-Shabaab is an exceedingly dangerous (perhaps more so than al-Qaeda) militant group. Striking outside of its borders is a truly alarming development.

Argentina Legalizes Same-sex Marriage: On Thursday, the Argentinean Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Argentina becomes the first country in all of Latin America to pass such a progressive, tolerant piece of gay rights legislation. This is somewhat surprising given the overwhelming Catholicism of the Argentine population; over 90% of the country identifies with the Church. Argentinean dioceses actively tried to sustain opposition to passage of the bill. Despite the organized resistance to the measure, it passed and now gay and lesbian couples can enjoy the same rights at heterosexual couples.

Sharia Women: Earlier this week, Malaysia Islamic officials appointed the first ever women to the country’s Sharia court. Malaysian sharia, the strictest interpretation of Islamic law, cases are tried by judges that are the guides of Islamic law within the country. The fact that two women were appointed to this position is a very big deal. Strict interpretations of the Qur’an call for women and men to be completed segregated from each other’s company outside of the familial home; you can clearly understand the controversy in letting female judges decide the fate of defendants. Although the extent of the women’s powers are still unclear, this is a pioneering step. Watch this, as a possibly model for other progressive Islamic countries, with a keen eye.

Healthcare and Kim Jong-il: This week, Amnesty International released a report on the healthcare system in the People’s Republic of Korea. The results of the report are unfathomable. Findings of doctors working at hospitals without basic medicine, performing surgeries by candlelight and amputating limbs without anesthesia litter the testimonial. Unsettling details about conditions under the world’s most reclusive regime are nothing new; stories of the nation’s food crisis, among other things, have trickled out from defectors. That being said, the international community is not close to putting together a full picture of what life is like under Kim Jong-il. We should cross our fingers and hope it’s not worse that what we know.

Feuding Neighbors: India and Pakistan are officially talking again. After almost two years of ice-cold relations, stemming from the Mumbai terror attacks, the two countries are back at the table trying to iron out their differences concerning the disputed and volatile region of Kashmir. Historical rivals, dating back to Partition, the two countries attitudes towards each other took a turn for the worse when Lashkar-e-Taiba trained militants struck the Indian commercial hotbed of Mumbai killing at least 170. This is a productive step forward for the region and the two countries to be talking about tinderbox issues once again.

American Matters

The CIA and the Iranian: At this point, you have all undoubtedly heard about the rouge Iranian scientist, Shahram Amiri, who went missing for months and only to surface this week in Washington, DC.  Mr. Amiri’s whereabots had been the subject of debate for months. Since his appearance, the story has unfolded at a breakneck pace. He and the Iranian government claim that he was abducted and tortured by the CIA. The Agency asserts that he was a willing defector and informant on the Iranian nuclear program. Reports have confirmed that Mr. Amiri was paid at least $5 million by the CIA for services rendered. He returned to the Islamic Republic to a hero’s welcome. We will probably never know what the truth of this latest international espionage episode is but it provides another reminder of the shadow games continually played by the world’s governments

The Barefoot Bandit's favorite loot.

Double-dip?: Economic news for the past two to three months has been mostly positive; gradual reduction in unemployment, stronger consumer confidence and a slowly growing economy. All of a sudden, however, the US is staring a double-dip housing crisis in the face. Reports this week indicate that foreclosures will hit the 1 million mark in 2010. This high number can be attributed to a backlog of mortgage holders; still, though, it’s a very scary statistic. So faced with this knowledge and the growing stagnation of the nation’s housing market, economists are feeling a bit weary. The whole world will be watching the US housing numbers with bated breath.

Barefoot Bandito: The Barefoot Bandit, otherwise known as Colton A. Harris, was finally caught in the Bahamas this week. A new American folk hero, Mr. Harris had been on the run for over two years, a plethora of states and the Caribbean for a litany of robberies from stealing airplanes to cold, hard cash. After finally yielding to the pressure of law enforcement officials, Mr. Harris was quick to plead guilty. At the age of 19, the Barefoot Bandit and his escapades will be the subject of American lore and pop culture for years, possibly decades, to come. Hats off to you Mr. Harris. You may be a criminal, but you’re a damn good one.

Death of a Hero: Vernon Baker, the only non-posthumous African American recipient of the Medal of Honor, died this week at the age of 90. He received the honor for his service with his platoon in Italy during WWII. He left the military in 1968 as a First Lieutenant. Mr. Baker returned to the United States after his military service and lived the rest of his years in Northern Idaho. In a time of war, it is important to remember those pioneers and heroes that so valiantly served our country. We’re forever indebted to you, Mr. Baker. Thank you.

Henry in America: French legend Thierry Henry is officially a member of the New York Red Bulls. A prolific scorer for both club and country, Henry comes to Major League Soccer (MLS) as the biggest signing in its history. (And YES, this includes David Beckham.) Unlike Mr. Beckham, Henry was made to score goals. He will clinically finish in front of goal and bring Red Bulls’ fans to their feet. It is quite possible Henry is the European star the MLS has been long searching for to bring Americans to its stadiums. Just wait, Henry will have too many Sportscenter Top Plays to count.

Off the Beaten Path

Secrets, secrets.

Mona’s Secrets: This may be only interesting to me and art enthusiasts but I thought it would be a nice little bit of Fodder for all. Using x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, Dr. Philippe Walter has uncovered the nitty-gritty details of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “sfumato” technique. The spectrometry procedure even allowed Dr. Walter to attain the recipes of Da Vinci’s paints and glazes. The glazes, mixed by Leonard himself, were layered in an impressively micro-manner. From the Da Vinci Code to this newest report, it seems that the vaguely smiling Mona will eternally hold a place in the world’s hearts.

Anchors at Ground Zero: Construction workers at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan have found the remains of an 18th Century ship used by traders in the mouth of the Hudson River. Next to the uncovered wooden hull, the excavators also found a 100lb anchor. A truly impressive historical find in the middle of the world’s busiest city. Everyone involved hopes to have the treasure removed by the end of the week. It just goes to show, there is history everywhere; even where you least expect it.

Eskil Ronningsbakken: There is not much to say about Eskil Ronningsbakken. He’s the world’s foremost extreme balancing act. Just check out this gallery and the YouTube video embedded below. As AWC says, “CRAZY Norwegians!” That is all.

Raccoon News: Last week’s Week in Fodder gave you a ridiculous and colloquial story about the Boston area so I’ll return the favor to NYC this week. Earlier this week, a raccoon – channeling his inner burglargot into the basement of the Brooklyn Public Library. Closing the storage area to staff for the week, the raccoon caused quite the nuisance and unfortunately did not get the library card it had applied for. (KNEE-SLAPPER!!)

Too Uncool for School: In our final news synopsis of the week, we offer you your first “Poll of the Week.” The other day, MSNBC ran a story chronicling the “10 Most Uncool Moments in Tech.” Click on that link, take a look at a couple of the videos and tell us which one you think is the LAMEST. It has to be the Sony rap, right?

Idiom of the Week

“Get you knickers in a twist”

Victorian knickers. Insert British accent.

This week’s Idiom of the Week should be said in an English accent at all times. Something about the word knickers makes me immediately think of good ‘ole England. To “get your knickers in a twist:” when you are angry, nervous, or perturbed with a particular situation.

Example #1: “Larry, don’t get your knickers in a twist with this one. Everything will work out.”

Example #2: “Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, recently got his knickers in a twist with the departure of Lebron James. As a result, he was fined 100,000 dollars by the NBA–true story.”

Song of the Week

This week’s song of the week comes from the Scandinavian group Who Made Who. I found this gem while listening to the radio of Nova Planet, a music website from France (http://www.novaplanet.com)

That’s all folks! Until next week, keep on reading the Fodder and living the good life!