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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Quest for freedom and justice has no end

Quest For Freedom And Justice Has No End

July 30, 2008 (Pacific Daily News)
By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

Nobody likes to be criticized, especially when criticism touches on national pride. Yet, it has been said, justified criticism provides room for improvement; unjustified criticism speaks volumes about its author's values and worth.

I am reminded that my recent columns on Cambodia "rattled" many, even though anyone can read much of a similar nature on the Internet. My former students of politics would recall my lectures on how existing freedoms, if not cherished and defended, are hard to regain. They should remember a Chinese proverb I often quoted, "Great souls have wills. Feeble ones have only wishes," and Edmund Burke's words, "All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," as I encouraged action.

I am not writing in this space to sell a political or ideological point of view, although I have my own political and ideological preferences and have expressed them. My intent is to share ideas and provoke thought, for that's how knowledge grows. If ideas and thoughts lead to positive action for society, that's not a bad thing.

Cambodia's July 27 national elections have ended. Some have applauded the outcome; others see the outcome in dark terms.

Eric Pape's "The Rule of Murderers and Thieves," in the July 23 Newsweek Web exclusive should give readers pause; Chhan D. Touch's July 24 "Why you should not vote CPP," (Premier Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party) on the Internet outlined three "simple reasons ... a Vietnamese puppet: personal gain, fear, and ignorance."

At the same time, the Thai-Cambodian conflict, which put two armies at a standoff over the ownership of the ancient Temple of Preah Vihear, awarded to Cambodia by the World Court in 1962, clouded the emotionally charged Cambodian election. Interestingly, the Singapore Straits Times reported, Singapore foreign minister George Yeo told a news conference after the Association of South-East Asian Nations' annual security meeting, "It was not a problem, even a few weeks ago. It suddenly became a problem." This, in itself, is a topic worth dissecting.

Like it or not, the flawed Cambodian elections put "elected" leaders in government to lead the country. While Albert Einstein's words should be remembered, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," we know that in most nation-states in the world the common goals of government are to maintain the country's independence and sovereignty (including Preah Vihear and Koh Tral for Cambodia); security (the order and the security for citizens); and economic and social well-being of all citizens (the promotion of individual and general welfare). How to get the newly elected leaders to achieve these goals?

Last week, I quoted Burma's dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who advised those feeling "hopeless and despairing: 'Don't just sit there. Do something.'"

"Change does not roll in on wheels of inevitability," civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. declared. Change "comes through continuous struggle. And so we must strengthen our back and work for our freedom," he told African-Americans. "A man can't ride you unless your back is bent." African-Americans' fight for change continues today.

There is a Khmer proverb that says, "Live with cow, sleep like cow; Live with parrot, fly like parrot." Such is the power and influence of the socialization that shapes and molds man's behavior, a process that begins at birth and ends only in death.

Being human, we all think. As with most things, however, it is the quality of the thought that matters. I have written about the Foundation of Critical Thinking that posits, "all thinking is not of the same quality," and the "quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought," and "the quality of everything we do is determined by the quality of our thinking."

"To think through," the Foundation advises, we need to "ask essential questions" on "what is necessary, relevant, and indispensable to a matter at hand."

"A mind with no questions is a mind that is not intellectually alive," asserts the Foundation.

I also wrote about Tim Hurson's book, "Think Better," that posits, "Every brain, regardless of its intelligence quotient (IQ) or creative quotient (CQ), can be taught to think better; to understand more clearly, think more creatively, and plan more effectively." Thus, people can learn.

Hurson advises: even when an answer "seem(s) so clear, so obvious, so right," -- as there are Cambodians who think Premier Sen and the CPP's corruption and repressive rule destroy Cambodia -- we should not settle on these answers but "keep asking new questions ... resist the urge to answer, the urge to know ... (because those) who 'know' ... don't need to learn because they already have the answers.

This brings me back to Suu Kyi's call on people to develop a "questing mind" that not only questions but also seeks answers.

The quest for freedom and justice has no end.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years.

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