Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cambodia & The Socialist Ethic

One of my constant themes on this blog concerns the decades long effort of the left to drive Judaism and Christianity from the public square, thus allowing government to become the sole moral arbiter, unmoored from the Judeo Christian ethic.  In the Judeo-Christian world, human life is sacrosanct, and thus the government is limited as to when it subjects may be imprisoned, executed or otherwise subject to coercion.  The secular left devalues human life, elevating in its stead the power of government and the principle of "equality." Where that leads is discussed by Prof. Douglas Levene in Reflections on Cambodia, an essay at NRO:

Cambodia suffered deeply under the Khmer Rouge. Perhaps as much as 20 percent of its people were murdered in killing fields like Choeung Ek or died as a result of starvation or disease following the expulsion of the urban populations to the countryside and the forced collectivization of agriculture. But calling these murders “genocide” troubles me.

Cambodia is now and was then one of the most ethnically unitary countries in the world: 95 percent of all Cambodians are ethnically Khmer; the remaining 5 percent include Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotians, Hmong, Cham, and others. And 95 percent of all Cambodians, of whatever ethnicity, are Buddhist. Most of the killings were Khmer on Khmer, although the Khmer Rouge did also target Cambodia’s very small Cham Muslim minority.

The term “genocide” historically refers to the mass extermination of a race or ethnicity, as with the Turks and the Armenians, or the Germans and the Jews, or the Serbs and the Bosnians. It doesn’t seem to fit what happened in Cambodia, except for the scale of the slaughter.

Rather, what happened in Cambodia is what happened in the French Revolution, and in Stalin’s purges and mass collectivization campaigns, and in Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, only on a proportionately larger scale. It was mass murder in the name of equality. It wasn’t “genocide”; it was Communist utopianism carried to its logical extreme. The Khmer Rouge, who called themselves Maoists, believed that the most important social and political value was equality and that in order to create their new, classless society in which everyone was equal, it was necessary to exterminate anyone who might be smarter, or better educated, or wealthier, or more talented than anyone else. Thus, they killed the educated, the bourgeoisie, the middle classes, and the rich; movie stars, pop singers, authors, urban residents, and workers for the former government; and anyone who protested — as well as the families of all the above. Towards the end, they also killed cadres who were thought to be a political threat. Whatever their crimes were, the Khmer Rouge do not seem to have been motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious hatred.

Why then do Cambodians and the world call the mass murders by the Khmer Rouge “genocide”? I can think of several possible reasons. One is the superficial similarity to other mass slaughters — as noted earlier, the pictures of the Cambodian killing fields look very much like the pictures from the German concentration camps. Surely many people who are largely ignorant of history know only that similarity. Another reason is the fact that the victims of genocide are sympathetic. The U.N. creates commissions, and wealthy countries send money. Cambodia today is filled with NGOs bringing aid of various kinds. The desire for international sympathy might explain why Cambodians use the genocide label.

However, I suspect that the most important reason for the usage worldwide is that many people in the international media, international agencies, and international NGOs (not to mention academia) are reluctant to face up to the crimes committed by Communism in the name of equality. To do so might call into question the weight attached by them to equality as the most important social value and undermine the multicultural faith that evil is predominantly the product of inequality, racism, ethnic hatred, or religious fanaticism. That cannot be permitted, so such crimes must be either ignored or mislabeled. . . .

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