Thursday, November 26, 2009
Lessons in Shame
Today is my last day in Cambodia and it was supposed to be a rather quiet and relaxing one. It has turned out to be far more interesting that I could have anticipated.
Went down for my Breakfast buffet this morning and sat watching the table across from me.
On one side was a well dressed businessman, I would guess about 60, tucking into his large breakfast. Seated across from him was a lovely if slightly provocatively dressed girl, I would guess may be 16 years of age. She sat motionless with no food in front of her staring off into nowhere. As each person past by and glanced at her she looked more pained. I really have no adequate words to describe the despair on her face. She sat there as a definitive example of “loss of face” - a concept used so efficiently by this culture to crush those who are weak and helpless. This was for her an excruciating ordeal of shame. They eventually got up and left and I sat there unable to eat watching her walk off with her abuser. Feeling angry and ill I left without eating.
Grabbed a moto and went over to Sotheary’s place. We were both headed out to the Crimes Against Humanity, Khmer Rouge trial of “Duch” the commandant of S-21, the chief torture prison in the Pol Pot regime. We were there to listen to the closing arguments of defense. It was a profound experience. I have been in many courtrooms and seen many murderers but nothing like this. It was really strange to hear lawyers talking formally in court about how the accused had seen to it that thousands of men women and children had been tortured and killed. Hearing such words strung together in sentence in a courtroom, a setting in which I am very comfortable, was astonishing. It made it real in a world that I understood. Such accusations are really heard to take in. This was made all the more real since Sotheary sat beside me. Her father was one of Duch’s victims!
There before me, a few feet away, was a man that I had wondered about for years before his discovery. A man infamous, a man despised, a man mythical – now before me old, small and looking passive. He sat in the center of the room as all talked about his crimes. He sat as an object of derision and shame. Duch’s willingness (unique among the revolutionary leaders) to accept his punishment, his guilt and wear his shame was obvious. As admission after admission of his guilt were read out the sense of acceptance grew. Over and over again his statements of remorse echoed around the room. Such statements seemed tiny and irrelevant to the gravity of the crimes. His attempts to accept even the guilt seem to be impossible for this burden is so great no human shoulders can really bear it. “I plead with you to allow me to share your immense and enduring sorrow” are hopeless and powerful words indeed.
Yet for Duch there is hope. His acceptance and grief are a direct result of his very real faith in Jesus Christ. While a broken man, he has discovered there are shoulders large enough to take even his burden. Forgiveness is not an option in this culture but the forgiveness offered in Christ can free even him. It causes me to look in to my own self-righteous heart and wonder how much different I really am from Duch- not much I think!
So today has been a day of some contemplation as I witnessed two examples of shame. One the shame of a little victim, the other the shame of a monster. The solution for both is the same. For all of the rest of us who fit somewhere in the spectrum between a child victim and a genocidal killer the solution is exactly the same- Christ!
And to finish off the day... Just getting ready to do a Global National TV interview on the trial via Skype (that’s a first for me) then off to the airport.
Blessings all. Will try and blog from Korea>