Sunday,2007-08-05: National and International – Moral – Challe

Posted on 6 August 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 519 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 519

During the past week, the issue of neighborly relations with Vietnam was addressed in different ways. It is again a reminder that – apart from many internal problems – the relation between Cambodia and its neighbors, and maybe more precisely, between the people – not only the states – is an issue which lacks clarity and requires regular self-critical attention, as it has led to so many tragedies in the past.

But one should not consider this only to be a problem between Cambodia and its neighbors. It is a much wider problem: it seem to be almost universal. The French philosopher Ernest Renan (1823-1892) wrote a famous essay “What is a nation?” in which he made the very critical statement, that a nation often seems to be “a group of people united by a mistaken view about their own past and a hatred of their neighbors.”

There are ample examples which seem to confirm this; there is so much unreflected, but obviously widespread conflict along these lines of “traditional” hatred: US-Americans hate Canadians, the British hate the Irish, Iraqis hate Iranians, Greeks hate the Turkish, Indians and Pakistanis have problems – all for different reasons, which do not stand up to rational investigation – especially, investigations and reflections which start with hate do not seem to lead to solutions. In a US White House press release from 26 May 2002, the US President, during a visit to France and a meeting with the French President, saw hate at the basis of present world conflicts: “And we – in the talk, I’m going to talk about — there’s been current — modern-day sacrifices. We still fight people who hate civilization. It was – or at least, civilization that we love, they can’t stand freedom.”

Actions based on this analysis have not overcome hate – the escalating violence and the thousands of lives lost testify to this.

The week made us face again with Cambodia-Vietnam relations in various forms, as we had reported: Wat Phnom Den Khang Cheung Head Monk Tep Sakhan had been defrocked on the accusation that he disturbed the harmonious Cambodian-Vietnamese relations – and then he disappeared, after, as reported, he had been picked up ad driven away in a car. Instead of an answer to the manifold concerns expressed and demands to the authorities to help clarify the whereabout of the disappeared person, who finally was reported to face a court in Vietnam, there was an explosives attack on the Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship Statue in Phnom Penh.

How can a way to peace with justice be found – not only in this case, but in a way that will lead to a different future, avoiding to fall back again and again into old and fixed emotions which have to be overcome, by working towards a better human community.

Renan saw a way ahead: “Nobody is a slave neither of their race nor their language, nor of their religion, nor of the course of rivers nor of the direction taken by mountain chains…” He knows, that this will not easily be accepted: “The best way of being right in the future is, in certain periods, to know how to resign oneself to being out of fashion.”

The King of Cambodia sent a message of congratulations to President Nguyen Minh Triet on the occasion of his re‑election as President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, saying that he believed that under President Nguyen Minh Triet’s clear‑sighted leadership, the traditional friendship and co‑operation between the two nations would continue to develop. Some people may say that such greetings fall under the verdict that they are not opportune and, to use Renan’s words, “out of fashion.” Others will agree with Renan: that in certain situations, the best way of being right is to dare to take steps which are considered not to be popular, but which may on the one hand break mistaken views about the past. And on the other hand they do not go along with the notion that mistrust or even hate of one’s neighbors are inevitable, but these attitudes have to be actively replaced by efforts towards mutual understanding and, eventually, to peace and cooperation – even if this is not popular.

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9 Responses to “Sunday,2007-08-05: National and International – Moral – Challe”

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very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
Idetrorce

A late – but necessary – correction:

Renan’s definition of a nation has been influential. This was given in his 1882 discourse Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (“What is a Nation?”). Whereas German writers like Fichte had defined the nation by objective criteria such as a race or an ethnic group “sharing common characteristics” (language, etc.), Renan defined it by the desire of a people to live together, which he summed up in a famous phrase, “avoir fait de grandes choses ensemble, vouloir en faire encore” (having done great things together and wishing to do more). Writing in the midst of the dispute concerning the Alsace-Lorraine region, he declared that the existence of a nation was based on a “daily plebiscite.” K Deutsch (in “Nationalism and its alternatives”) suggested that a nation is “a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors.” This phrase is frequently, but mistakenly, attributed to Renan himself. He did indeed write that if “the essential element of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common,” they “must also have forgotten many things. Every French citizen must have forgotten the night of St. Bartholomew and the massacres in the 13th century in the South.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Renan)

I fell for the frequent – but mistaken – attribution also.

Norbert Klein


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