Last week I featured a piece on the Phnom Penh post by anthropologist David Lempert about the Cham and statelessness, which suggest how archaeology can help the Cham reconnect with their lost heritage. Three scholars working in Cambodia (one of which is Alison in Cambodia) reply with their disagreements to the archaeological examples in Lempert’s argument.

[22 October update: You can find the full-length article (as the Phnom Penh Post article was cut for space) in Alison’s site here.]

Identity beyond origin: The Cham
Phnom Penh Post, 17 October 2008

Firstly, the Cham are discussed as if they were a uniform group, possessed of a single history. Even when Champa existed, it consisted of different city-states with a sphere of influence that included a coastal area as well as upland peoples related to today’s Jarai and Rhade. Today the Cham continue to be a diverse group. And while there is a tendency to adopt intellectual currents originating in the wider Muslim world, there are still Cham that maintain a sense of connection to Champa. The recent festival this week honoring Imam San, who established the Muslim community in Udong, and the wealth of folk histories throughout the country that name Champa as a homeland, demonstrate that the Cham are not suffering from historical amnesia.

Secondly, there is the question of the archaeological record. Lempert proposes Cambodia as a place for a Cham homeland by drawing on archaeological evidence, but with his tenuous examples Lempert appears to instead be co-opting Khmer history so that it may be given to the Cham. It goes without saying that no Southeast Asian community existed in a vacuum; there was always interaction between different civilisations. However, Lempert’s broad statements, such as that the Cham “taught” Khmers goldworking based purely on similarities in vocabulary, is deeply problematic.

For archaeologists who study pre-Angkorian Cambodia and Funan, there is no strong evidence that the Cham “jointly gave birth to the Oc Eo – Phu Nan [sic] civilisation” as Lempert states. The first self-identifying reference to Champa civilization does not appear until the late sixth century AD on an inscription in My Son, Vietnam. Lempert proposes archaeological sites, such as Sambor Prei Kuk, as the centre for a Khmer-Cham reconciliation site – ideal because it “may have had Cham influence”. While there was most likely interaction between the two regions, there is insufficient evidence to declare Sambor Prei Kuk a joint Khmer-Cham site. What is certain is that the Cham have a strong archaeological history, whose study is underdeveloped. Rather than proposing to adopt Khmer history, Lempert should call for more research on Champa civilisation while training a new generation of Cham archaeologists.

Thirdly, Lempert ignores what reaction the Khmer public would likely have if his suggestions were to be implemented. Even talking of a Cham homeland would strengthen fears that the Cham are not loyal citizens. Attributing joint Khmer-Cham authorship to the architectural legacy upon which much of Cambodia’s sense of nationhood is constructed would also be poorly received. We need only recall the firestorm of criticism unleashed when last year it was suggested that king Jayavarman VII might have been half-Cham to predict what the probable reaction will be. Khmers already feel embattled enough holding off the Thais at the border. They are unlikely to appreciate yet another rival making claims to their cultural patrimony.

Related Books:
Cham Muslims of the Mekong Delta: Place and Mobility in the Cosmopolitan Periphery (Southeast Asia Publications Series)
– Temples of Champa in Vietnam =: Thap Cham Viet Nam
Cham Sculpture of the Tourane Museum Danang Vietnam
Cham ruins: Journey in search of an ancient civilization
– Indian Sculpture Masterpieces of Indian, Khmer and Cham Art
Cham Art
From Ancient Cham to Modern Dialects: Two Thousand Years of Language Contact and Change : With an Appendix of Chamic Reconstructions and Loanwords (Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications)
The Art of Champa (Temporis)
The Champa Kingdom; The History of an Extinct Vietnamese Culture
Proceedings of the Seminar on Champa
Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia
Early Civilizations of Southeast Asia (Archaeology of Southeast Asia)

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4 Replies to “Relooked: The Chams, identity and archaeology”

  1. Alison is missing the point of my article and is offering a solution that is self-serving: more money for archaeologists (note she is an archaeologist) and silence on whether or not the Cham peoples (various groups of Cham) can protect their international rights as victims of a genocide (for reasons that can also be described as self-serving and even in violation of professional ethics).

    She says that it is best not to raise the second issue, probably because raising issues of national identity for a minority would affect her ability to do her research in Cambodia. She doesn’t want to support compensation for the Cham from the Khmer probably because she sees her research as vulnerable. (The position she takes is common among researchers in Cambodia given the political realities. It may be realistic, but it doesn’t make it any less self-serving, particularly when it is presented under the cover of being in the interests of the Cham, which probably isn’t the major motivation.) In my view, that not only compromises internationally established rights but it also raises questions about a researcher’s ethical obligations to minority peoples’ rights to their history and to protection.

    We can probably agree with each other on the archaeological history, but I don’t write in the Phnom Penh Post to debate the finer points of history. I write to raise issues that are current and that deal with human lives and solutions to make those lives better. This is where Alison and her two colleagues completely drop the ball.

    We do have professional obligations and codes and their response looks to me like a possible violation of that code. We can disagree on solutions, but we at least need to be part of solutions and not argue that silence and more money for our field are the best protections of others. We need to be more honest and put international obligations and rights of others, first.

    Alison’s phrasing of her concern for the Cham in terms of the need for silence in response to the Khmer does not respond to the reality that some Khmer are now on trial in an international proceeding for violating the rights of the Cham; what some call genocide. If the international community is taking a stand and can consider forms of compensation for the Khmer, isn’t it odd that an international archaeologist should call for silence because it might offend “the Khmer”? Isn’t now the time that scholars have a moral responsibility to offer ideas on how to make those communities whole? Should scholars studying the Roma/Gypsies and Jews in Germany have been silent during the Nuremberg trials on the issue of compensation for Roma and have said that it would be better not to seek compensation so as not to provoke a backlash (i.e., interfere with the chance for more research), arguing that the Roma ties to Germany were really not so strong (which is essentially their argument for the Cham and the Khmer if you read their piece)?

    My solution may not be the best. There may be other much better solutions for the Cham — more exchanges and linkages with their real homeland(s) and history and different groups in Viet Nam, and more museums and curricula. We can have a discussion on the solutions and the role that other countries, like Viet Nam, should take. But to suppress the discussion simply because it might offend the majority groups that have to take some responsibility for the problem is a violation of the rights of the Cham and of our ethics codes, in my view.

    The largest Cham population is NOW in Cambodia where they have a province named for them even though they are a minority there, and the most recent genocide against them that is now being tried in an international court occurred in Cambodia. So this is a good place to start to look for some compensation. The Cham history in Cambodia may be only 300 years old and it may be “better” to link the Cham with ancestral homelands in Viet Nam, and if so, this is what the discussion should be about, rather than an attempt to end the discussion entirely. The reality is also that the Cham have been victimized and don’t have the resources now, by themselves, to find and interpret their history and to define their identity for themselves. The help they are getting is familiar to the region — missionary education. They are getting religious education and funding from the Muslim world and they are being taught that history in the same way that Buddhist education and Christian missionary education have spread history and teaching and suppressed the local history of the Khmer into their origins, and the other peoples of Southeast Asia into their history. That is why it is also an international responsibility to offer support for ALL of the perspectives of the CHAMS’ origins and history as part of a joint international effort. The same kind of solution can apply to other peoples in the region. This isn’t an attempt to hurt the Khmer in order to help the Cham, though I think Alison is trying to characterize it that way.

    As those with anthropological training and as educators, this is what the three authors have a responsibility to protect and it is shocking that they believe religious texts and disconnect from ancient sites of one’s homeland can substitute for real education. It is shocking that they can also justify the cutting off of the Cham from their own historic sites on the basis that cultural extinction is just another fact of life and “the word will get over it.” That’s easy for an archaeologist to say; to put dead cities above the people who built them, but it is not the spirit of humanism that guides archaeology or other investigations into the human past. It is shocking because it goes against international principles of UNESCO and the rights of the person and the idea of research and intellect as serving people and fully available to them.

    By international law, the Cham have the right to
    1) full information on their history and ability to visit their own ancestral homeland and learn about their history first so that THEY can make decisions on how THEY want to interpret their history; and
    2) some kind of protected homeland of some form given that they have been the victims of a continuing Holocaust, first in Viet Nam and now more recently in Cambodia. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a state. It just has to protect them and allow them linkages with their history and each other.

    UN Treaties — the Convention on the Rights of the Child and others, clearly establish the first right. I propose museums and tours in Cambodia AND in Viet Nam and elsewhere to do that. Alison does not support this universal right in her piece in the Phnom Penh Post.

    UN Declarations like the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and previous responses to genocide recognize the right of people to return to their ancestral homelands as the Jews did to Israel. Alison and her two young colleagues do not seem to support that either.

    We can disagree over scientific interpretations and on solutions, but once we discard our commitment to international law and to our ethical obligation to think first about the peoples we study, we have also destroyed our own humanity and the work that we do is also dead to humanity. This is what I see in the letter of the three young scholars who responded to my effort to help the Cham peoples interact with each other and with their rich history and achievements.

  2. “I write to raise issues that are current and that deal with human lives and solutions to make those lives better. This is where Alison and her two colleagues completely drop the ball.”

    I don’t think the authors were or are in anyway arguing against human rights, or helping the Cham people. It seems to me, they believe that you cannot properly make a claim to help people, when you are misapplying the archaeological record to that end. Their response is not an attack on your goals, but your methods.

    Your counter argument is somewhat long-winded considering that it is off point, to be brutally honest.

  3. Hi Dr. Lempert and all readers
    I wanted to write a quick response to your post. First off, three people wrote the letter. I do not appreciate being called out as the sole author of the letter when that was not the case. The other two lead authors are Cham scholars and so many of the details Lempert is addressing above are better answered by them. I do want to address a few issues here and I have at least asked them to post their own comments on this blog as well:

    -First, the point of our article (which I think was clear) was not to offer a solution. We were disturbed by some of Dr. Lempert’s suggestions and wanted to bring the matter up for discussion before coming to or offering any kind of solution. By the way I do want to note that we were not the only ones who were concerned by his article:

    It’s a discussion, so let’s discuss. He seems to believe that we were advocating throwing more money into archaeology for the Cham to be silent? I am not sure where he is getting this idea. Our small suggestion was that the Cham better understanding their own past through expanding their own archaeology program. (Dr. Lempert should read the longer version of the article on the website above, as this portion was cut slightly by the PP Post). I do not understand how this point goes against what Dr. Lempert is suggesting. I should also note that letter was also written by two cultural anthropologists, and if Dr. Lempert has ever met a cultural anthropologist whose solution is to throw more money into archaeology, well- I would like to meet this person. That was one small comment provided one possible outlet for the Cham themselves to reconnect to their culture, not the point of our letter.

    -We never advocated for the Cham to be silent. In fact our suggestions were phrased to give the Cham more of a voice.

    -Dr. Lempert seems to think that I personally would gain (financially? academically?) by “silencing the Cham.” He says that raising issues about Cham national identity and “compensation to the Cham” would be harmful to my research. This is not true, and to be honest the thought never crossed my mind. I research prehistoric archaeology. Definitions of ethnicity are complex and fluid among living people that can speak and write. Defining an ethnic group in the prehistoric record is pretty much impossible and deeply problematic. My research would not be affected by the creation of a Cham homeland or some kind of compensation to the Cham because my research exists outside of these categories. The only way this could impact my research is if these archaeological examples are taken up by nationalist groups who misuse and misinterpret them. It would not be out of the realm of possibility for this to result in a massacre or civil war. For a recent example of this Dr Lempert might want to look into the events at Ayodhya, India. This concern is what drove me, personally, to respond to Dr. Lempert. And it seems my concerns were valid. Dr. Lempert states the following:

    “We can probably agree with each other on the archaeological history, but I don’t write in the Phnom Penh Post to debate the finer points of history. I write to raise issues that are current and that deal with human lives and solutions to make those lives better. This is where Alison and her two colleagues completely drop the ball.”

    It seems to me that with this statement Dr. Lempert is admitting to misusing archaeology for his nationalist purposes (would this be an example of a professional violation?). What he fails to see is that this is a very serious and dangerous matter. Would creating a Cham homeland or compensation based on these distorted views of the past really serve his purpose of giving the Chams a voice? My colleagues and I disagree. We think, in fact, that doing so could very possibly endanger human lives. What we did suggest instead was that rather than making-up a history for the Cham would be actually renew investigations of Cham archaeology and history by the Cham themselves. I believe this would fall under the international principles of UNESCO that Dr. Lempert states:

    “By international law, the Cham have the right to
    1) full information on their history and ability to visit their own ancestral homeland and learn about their history first so that THEY can make decisions on how THEY want to interpret their history;”

    Ahh, now it seems that Dr. Lempert DOES want to debate the finer points of history. There is very little information about the Cham in Cambodia or in Vietnam. Southeast Asia in general is understudied archaeologically. Calling for more research would be in the spirit of these guidelines as the Cham (and the Khmer for that matter) do not have what I could characterize as “full information” on their histories. For an anthropologist without an archaeological background to create this history for them, is not in step with these international guidelines. The Nazi’s also (mis)used archaeological evidence to make a decision about how THEY wanted to interpret THEIR history. I think that Dr. Lempert would agree that this is not the course that anyone would like to take.

    By bringing up this point we are not seeking to end the discussion, as Dr. Lempert seems to believe, but to continue the discussion he thoughtfully started. This is, obviously, not something that can be resolved by a few letters or blog posts. And my personal belief is that it is not a discussion that needs to be had solely by foreign researchers. It is a discussion that should be instigated and driven by the Cham themselves.

    -Lastly, I feel that Dr. Lempert did not actually address any of the concerns we brought up in the article. Instead he resorted to personal attacks against myself and my colleagues by questioning our professional codes and ethics. This is striking in and of itself and perhaps it is because Dr. Lempert has been watching too much McCain. For Dr. Lempert to state that I do not support Cham human rights is false and insulting. All three of us are highly ethical scholars who are concerned about the Cham and the Khmer. This concern was what led us to write the letter. Additionally we are not “young scholars.” Bjorn has been working in Cambodia and studying the Cham for 7 years. Alberto has been working here for several years and speaks Cham and Khmer. I have been working Cambodia for three years and speak Khmer.

    I don’t think we missed the point of Dr. Lempert’s article at all. I think it is clear he lacks an understanding of the broader socio-cultural implications of his suggestion. As knowledgeable scholars in Cambodia, we were bringing our experiences and ideas to the discussion.

  4. Super-Limp

    Before taking apart the basic elements of Mr. Lempert’s latest attempt at a contribution to the world of Cham scholarship and knocking down each of his arguments like so many deeply uninformed bowling pins, I would like to begin by stating that the person typing this document is Alberto Pérez-Pereiro. My colleagues Bjørn Atle Blengsli and Alison Carter have contributed to this text and approved its final formulation. This is important since Lempert’s response to our critique of his article in the Phnom Penh Post was not to address the issues in any substantial way, but rather to engage in a series of ad hominem attacks and attempts at character assassination written as to suggest that he might even have the vaguest idea of who we are. We feel it is important for the reading public to know who we are as individual scholars and why collectively we came to the very same conclusion when confronted with Lempert’s initial essay in October 10th’s Phnom Penh Post – namely, that this man’s untutored arrogance leads him to pose as a champion for human rights and the welfare of Cham people while advocating policies that would certainly lead to disaster for this community if ever they were implemented. Regrettably, this post will likely have to be a long one, but then, one of the problems with actually knowing what you’re talking about is having a lot to say.
    Bjørn and I have been conducting anthropological research on the Muslim community of this country for seven and three years respectively. Bjørn’s research has been commissioned by several organizations including the National Bureau for Asian Research, and has covered every region of the country where Muslims live. His works include the most comprehensive surveys of Muslim educational practices as well as Muslim attitudes on a wide range of issues. My own research deals with the construction of Cham historical memory and how this is formed in the context of both diasporic and transnational Islamist ideologies – one of the issues Lempert ham-fistedly attempted to comment on in his first piece. While Alison’s research is not on the Cham specifically, she is an expert on pre-Angkorian archaeology, and she was kind enough to help us by puncturing the flimsy argumentation based on a complete misunderstanding of the archaeological record that lay at the defective heart of Lempert’s initial essay. The three of us speak, read and write Khmer and I also have a certain degree of proficiency in the Cham language. Each of us feels strongly connected to this country in our own way, and all three of us care deeply about its people and its future. For this reason, Lempert’s scurrilous accusations regarding our characters and our commitment to professional ethics and the welfare of the people with whom we work are all the more hurtful and will be refuted with all of the bile and lack of politesse that is called for on such occasions.
    Let us first address Lempert’s contention that we are asking people to be silent, to not speak, or that we are in any way trying to stifle a conversation that needs to be had. In our response letter, we clearly said that:

    We recognize that Dr. Lempert truly has the interests of Cham people at heart and so appreciate his opening of a discussion on these issues. Nonetheless, we worry that his assumptions concerning Cham identity rest on foundations that are not altogether sound and that the implementation of any cultural program that accepts them as the primary point of departure from which to move policy forward will ultimately lead to serious consequences for Khmer-Cham relations, where the Cham community that Dr. Lempert seeks to champion will be the likely loser.

    How Lempert drew from this that we were calling for silence on the issue can only be determined by a licensed reading disability specialist. What is clear from our original text is that we believe there is a great deal to discuss regarding the forms and contours that Cham and Muslim identity will take in the future, and that, as researchers and public intellectuals, we should be a part of that discussion. What is also clear is that we regard Lempert’s stance on these matters to be wholly and completely wrong without significant qualification of any kind. So let’s get to what exactly Lempert’s arguments are in both his PP Post article and his more recent screed.

    1. Cham need to be reconnected to their historic Champa homeland and be given opportunities to identify with the ruined temples that bear witness to what was once a significant player among Southeast Asian civilizations.

    This was covered in our initial response, but it may be worthwhile to reexamine the relevance of Champa to contemporary Cham. Both Bjørn and I have found that identification with Champa is not universal among the Cham by any means. While some communities, particularly the Imam San community and some communities of Kampong Cham do regard this historic link as immensely important others do not. Moreover, all evidence suggests that among the youth, Champa and Cham ethnicity is less important to them when they are compared with their parent’s generation.

    Lempert observes correctly (for a change):

    Cham in Cambodia don’t study the history of Champa (the Cham in Vietnam) and of the Sa Huynh. They don’t seem to study the architecture or the art or the ancient crafts and pride of the Cham in Muslim or public schools or their homes.

    Now, Cham have their own schools, however under-funded and under-resourced, they do nonetheless manage to teach what the community thinks is important even if not very effectively. Does it not strike Lempert that if they are not teaching these things, it may be because they don’t consider them worth teaching? As we’ve said before, we as researchers may be absolutely overcome with admiration for the glories of Champa and the trappings of Cham culture, but that doesn’t seem to go very far with many Cham today.
    When Dai Thanh of the Cham National Federation of Cambodia (CNFC) and World Council of Champa (WCC) proposed to build a Cham culture university in Phnom Penh in 2004, Bjørn and the French researcher Emiko Stock were among the first to support his efforts. However, Bjørn’s research has shown that almost 100%, i.e. of non-Imam San Cham want a Muslim university and not necessarily a Cham culture University. We are not saying that Dai Thanh’s work is unimportant, but for the majority of Cham, it is a modern Muslim university that would help them develop their communities. It is not us as researchers who want this, it is the Cham themselves. Most Muslim education includes some form of vocational training, and in Wahhabii schools, very good secular education. In addition, much research indicates that Muslim education is even empowering for Cham women in Cambodia, where 65% of girls in religious schools have a level of formal education ranging from 6th to 12th grade.

    Lempert remarks rather less correctly that:

    …most cannot recount the history of their Cham king who ruled the country in the 17th century and where he is buried.

    That may be because King Reameathipadei I who ruled from 1642-1658 was a Khmer and not a Cham. He converted to Islam and took the name Ibrahim, but he cannot properly be regarded as a Cham. This may sound like nit-picking over details, but Lempert has a way of playing fast and loose with the facts and then acting as though his fundamental lack of learning does not really impinge on the validity of his assertions. Moreover, if we really think about it, it’s not such a small detail at all. Not all of Cambodia’s Muslims are even ethnically Cham. Many are Chvea, or the descendents of Malay settlers in the country. They do not and have never spoken Cham and regard themselves as a separate group. Where do these non-Cham Muslims fit into Lempert’s grand scheme? Should they also study Cham history? Should they also be resettled in the ‘Cham Homeland’ that Lempert proffers as a solution to the problem of dislocation and disempowerment? Speaking of a homeland:

    2. The Cham deserve a homeland, or at least it should be on the table.

    This is one of those ideas that get steadily stupider the more you think about it. As with point number one, this was tackled in our response in the Phnom Penh Post, but owing to the fact that this is Lempert’s most dangerous idea and the one that most strongly betrays his lack of comprehension of how this country works and what relations between Khmers and Muslims are like, we will expand on our previous criticism. First things first – what ‘table’ is Lempert talking about? Is this actually being discussed somewhere by serious people – the creation of a sovereign entity to be inhabited and administered by the Cham? In May 2007 a handful of Muslims in the Pursat province were accused of trying to organize a militia in order to retake the Kingdom of Champa and lower Cambodia which now is a part of Vietnam, but this is essentially a fringe organization. Lempert is effectively inventing an issue that no one (a few aging FULRO activists notwithstanding) is even talking about.
    Bjørn’s research among Muslim youth shows that approximately 48% say that the most important aspect of their identity is to be a Cambodian national (not Khmer) and 41% emphasize that the fact that they are Muslims is the most important aspect of their identity. This leaves 11% who emphasize ethnicity and these are split between Cham and Chvea Muslims. It doesn’t appear as though an independent or autonomous homeland is all that high on people’s list of priorities here.
    What would this homeland even look like? It may be as Lempert proposes:

    …an autonomous region for the Cham in an area between Cambodia and Vietnam, such as Kampong Cham

    Maybe this is just another one of those pesky facts I’m apt to nit-pick on but Kampong Cham is not in between Cambodia and Viet Nam – IT IS IN CAMBODIA! Cambodia and Viet Nam border each other, there is no unclaimed or unspoken for territory in between. Please see a map, Mr. Lempert.
    But what if some space were carved out? Is Mr. Lempert advocating forcible population transfers of Cham into his fantasy Champa theme park on the Cambodian-Vietnamese border? He’d better be, or this place is going to be remarkably free of Cham folks who don’t feel like giving up their settled lives in Western Kampong Cham, Battambang or the Phnom Penh area for some ethnically pure Cham paradise in the bush. Lempert’s comparison of the need for a Cham homeland with the need for Jews to have a homeland in Palestine is almost completely inappropriate. Lempert’s Champa-Homeland is not another Israel, it’s a repeat of Stalin’s attempt at a Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Siberia. In the same way that Stalin thought a Jewish homeland in the USSR would stop the advance of Zionist ideologies at the expense of the official Marxist doctrine, Lempert hopes that this Cham Bantustan will legitimize Champa rather than Islam as the underpinning of Cham identity. It is comparable to the Israel example in one way, however. This is because, much like the establishment of the Jewish state, a Cham homeland is going to require moving people who happen to be living there already. This New Champa is not a ‘land without a people for a people without a land’ any more than Palestine ever was. What of the rights of these people who will be displaced? What of the rights of any Cham who don’t want to move? Are we to believe that after excising a chunk of Cambodia for a Cham Homeland that Khmers are going to be OK with the Cham continuing to occupy quality real estate in Chrouy Changvar, Chrang Chamres or anywhere along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers? Let’s be serious. The answer is no. But these concerns have no purchase on Lempert. His fervent need to pen his own Cham-flavored sequel to Altneuland has effectively inured him to the consequences that his line of reasoning must necessarily result in for the protection of the rights of Cambodians (not just Cham).
    Speaking of rights, as Lempert loves to do, what exactly are the rights of the Cham in this country? Lempert talks about international law as if there were such a monolithic entity as ‘international law’ and declines to be specific about exactly which laws or conventions he thinks apply to the case of the Cham. Lempert says:

    By international law, the Cham have the right to
    1) full information on their history and ability to visit their own ancestral homeland and learn about their history first so that THEY can make decisions on how THEY want to interpret their history; and
    2) some kind of protected homeland of some form given that they have been the victims of a continuing Holocaust, first in Viet Nam and now more recently in Cambodia. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a state. It just has to protect them and allow them linkages with their history and each other.

    Let’s take these in turn. 1. Is someone denying the Cham information about their history? My research as well as Bjørn’s has shown that the Cham are not without notions of history. The question is how that history is integrated into a project for the future. Lempert insists that THEY must make decisions and that THEY must interpret their own history. Well, that was exactly the point of our first response piece. They have made these decisions, and for the most part Champa has lost out to Islam. That’s a fact Mr. Lempert. You’ll need to deal with that. What Lempert means by ‘THEY’ is of course not the Cham people themselves, since he’s not interested in what the Cham people actually think, but instead he has in mind some idealized Cham just waiting for a hero like Lempert to sweep him off his feet and carry him back over the threshold of history to Champa – that wonderful land of fragrant eaglewood and unrestricted coastal piracy. Those were the days indeed!
    2. According to Lempert, Cambodia owes the Cham people and independent homeland as a way of atoning for a history of genocide. He chides Khmers because:

    they [Khmers] offer them [Cham] no political autonomy or special representation.

    Wow! Are we supposed to give people special political autonomy or special representation because of their religious beliefs? We know of at least one country where this practice is enshrined in law. In Lebanon, the offices of President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament are reserved for members of the Christian, Sunni and Shi’ite faiths respectively. Each confessional group has their own specially set aside piece of the political pie. How’s that working out by the way? Is this the model Lempert has in mind? Lebanon? Really?
    The Cham are not considered an indigenous people here since they have a historic point of origin outside Cambodia. So international norms and conventions referring to indigenous people are not likely to apply. If they do apply, they apply in Viet Nam. Not here. Even their status as a minority (cunceat pheak touc) is not completely clear. As I commented in a blog some time ago, the Cham, like the Chinese or the Vietnamese are sometimes seen as long-term immigrants and guests unlike the hill tribes generally classified as Khmer Leu who are regarded as completely internal to the Cambodian state. The Cham too distinguish between themselves as a civilized people on par with the Khmers and the Vietnamese, and the Jarai and other upland speakers of Chamic languages whom they regard with much of the same paternalism as the Khmer regard the Pnong or the Brao.
    What the Cham are, are citizens of Cambodia. Hun Sen has been very outspoken in his support for the inclusion of Cham people in public life and creating an institutional environment that does not discriminate or disadvantage the Cham. His push for Muslim prayer rooms in the Phnom Penh airport and his advocacy of modifying the dress codes of Cambodian schools so as to permit Islamic attire are two recent examples of this. Another example was when the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs issued a circular on “maintaining order in the Islamic religion in the Kingdom of Cambodia on October 2, 2001.” It placed restrictions upon mosques, especially in dealings with foreign Muslims. Three days later, however, Prime Minister Hun Sen nullified the document, claiming it impinged upon the freedom of religion for the country’s Muslims. Say what you like about Hun Sen and the CPP, but they do make efforts to include and accommodate the Muslim community in their programs. Also worthy of note: although the Cham do not have a special political representation, they are well represented at the Ministry of Cults and Religions where Islam is an officially recognized religion and all research permits for work on the Cham are first approved by a Muslim official. Incidentally, the king of Cambodia also has a special liaison between himself and the Imam San community centered in Udong.
    What this demonstrates is that Cambodia’s Muslims have been organizing and advocating for their interests for a long time, and more to the point, that the Cambodian state however flawed, has institutional mechanisms through which Muslims can articulate their needs and make them legible to a non-Muslim administration. Does Lempert think the Cham were just waiting around for him to show up and fight for their rights? He must think himself a regular David Carradine, swaggering into town setting all them wrongs right before moving on to his next worthy cause. Well the truth is, any attempt to perform any kind of good deed should begin with information – what are the facts on the ground? Grasshopper does not have this information. He is not in touch with the principal political and theological discussions that are taking place among the kingdom’s Muslims. Nor does he seem to know much about Cambodia in general and the kinds of attitudes that Khmers hold vis-à-vis Muslims.
    The Cham have on several occasions tried to rebel and claim a sovereign territory in 1597 and also in 1858. It has each time ended in catastrophe and it is our belief that every single significant Muslim leader in Cambodia wants to live in peace with their Khmer neighbors. Bjørn’s research has shown that the tensions between Cham and Khmer are still palpable and that skepticism and even hostility toward Muslims is common. News reports in the Cambodian mass media have played upon these sentiments. It is important not to forget that some Khmer claim that the Cham want to give parts of Cambodia to the Vietnamese. In 2005, the Cambodian Television Network illustrated how the Khmer majority view the Muslim minority. In a series called “Manpower and Destiny,” one of the lead characters was Muslim and he was portrayed as superstitious, drank beer and wore an earring. Complaints from the Muslim community, however, led to a cancellation of the show – just one more example of how the Cham are not quite the powerless downtrodden minority Lempert makes them out to be.
    Bjørn’s research (some of which will be released on Hawaii University Press in January 2009) has also shown that a large minority of 37% of Cham students believe Khmers do not like Muslims. In this research, 12% of the study’s student respondents said they have experienced problems with their Khmer neighbors and 40% of the respondents claimed that they cannot practice their religion freely. Bjørn, who spent his first ten months in Cambodia in a Cham village was constantly reminded that the Cham, are guests in Cambodia. It appears that neither the Khmer nor many Cham are completely clear on what the nature of Cham belonging is in contemporary Cambodian society

    3. Champa, Angkor and the Khmer Rouge period are part of one single narrative that explains the situation of the Cham today.

    Lempert weaves back and forth between the Angkorean period and the Khmer Rouge régime without stopping to think of the particulars of each of those contexts and whether or not they continue to be relevant. For someone who advocates so strongly that history and not religion should be the lynchpin of identity, Lempert is astonishingly unversed in regional history. Lempert says things like:

    … the Cham are now a stateless people in Asia, mostly converted to Islam – following the religion of the one group that offered them any resources and dignity as they were forced to flee the Vietnamese for their lives over the past centuries…

    Does he mean that other Muslims were offering resources to the Cham migrating to Cambodia? Perhaps this is the international body he refers to as the ‘Muslim World’ in his first article. Muslim aid giving of the type he suggests doesn’t occur until the ’90s. There was at the time nothing like the system of Islamic charities and aid networks that are supplying today’s Cham with a steady stream of support.
    Or take this one:

    At least half of the world’s Cham now live in Cambodia, where they fled the earlier genocides from the Vietnamese and sought to create a republic with the help of Malayan Muslims; ultimately concentrating in Kampong Cham and along the country’s rivers.

    Is he referring to the rebellion in the late 16th century? This was about setting up an independent Muslim kingdom – not a republic. Republican government would not be introduced to the region for a few more centuries.
    Or finally:

    If you are looking for images of the country’s ethnic groups in Cambodian history, the place to actually find them is on the friezes of Angkor Wat and the Bayon, and those of Banteay Chhmar. But these depictions are largely of imperial supremacy of the Khmer, with groups like the Cham being defeated by the Khmer. When it comes to the Cham, these protected ancient friezes reinforce the victimisation of the Cham rather than offer a solution to protect them.

    Are Khmers really making pilgrimages to Angkor Wat to consult the wall carvings for advice on how to treat the Cham? Does he even believe that most people, Khmer or not, could, without prior preparation and training in the artistic styles of the period even recognize who the Cham are in those images? This is another example of Lempert’s lack of rigor when it comes to handling the data, which he uses to justify his wild assertions.

    With each of Lempert’s pseudo-academic arguments handily consigned to the dustbin of contemporary Cambodian studies, all that remains is the stern business of clearing our professional and ethical reputations and exposing Lempert for the fraud that he is.
    Nothing screams “I’m losing an argument!” like calling your interlocutor a Nazi. Or, a Nazi collaborator, sympathizer or stooge. Sometime the person will say that you are ‘standing idly by as evil happens’, suggesting not only that you are lacking in moral fiber but that you are lazy too. In Lempert’s case he prefers to compare us to those who would have remained silent during the Nuremburg trials rather than speak out for justice. The Hitler card comes in many variations – many more subtle than this one… For the record, Alison’s family is Jewish, both of Bjørn’s grandfathers fought the Nazis during their occupation of Norway and my own parents participated in the Paris Uprising of 1968, so even the slight intimation that I or my two colleagues have fascist sympathies or leanings is not only an insult to us but an odious affront to our families as well.
    Lempert would have the public believe that we tacitly approve of genocide or the violation of the human rights of Cham people. He then says quite explicitly that we are in violation of ‘the code’. Like ‘international law’, Lempert allows this to remain a sort a murky set of rules determined primarily by his own intuition as to what is good and bad. We can only hope that he is referring to the Principles of Professional Responsibility of the American Anthropological Association. My colleagues and I are familiar with this document and conduct our research in accordance with it. To suggest otherwise is a serious charge for which it is assumed the accuser should have at least a modicum of evidence, but, as with all of other contentions reviewed in this essay, he has no grounding for this either. That said, it remains a libelous charge, clearly made with the intent of discrediting us as professionals, damaging our reputations and preventing us from doing our work and an apology should be forthcoming.
    A critical part of ethics is about taking responsibility for the predictable consequences of our actions. In order to determine what those consequences are, we need to be informed and aware of the situation we are navigating. Ignorance is not ethical, Mr. Lempert. Neither is there anything noble about not caring about the consequences of one’s actions. The idea that we are trying to keep Cham quiet so as to appease the Khmer is preposterous. Firstly, because it assumes that there is a call for a Cham Homeland emanating from the grassroots to silence at all. This doesn’t exist. It is a figment of Lempert’s hero complex. Secondly, we simply don’t see Balkanization of the type Lempert advocates as a reasonable or workable solution in the near or long-term. This idea is disastrous. It is truly amazing how someone could be as blind as Lempert to not see that adding more insecurities to the Khmers’ already well developed sense of victimhood at the hands of their neighbors, will only make things worse. All three of us want to see Khmer and Cham live peacefully together and hope that over time, dialogue between the communities will be improved so as to overcome feelings of mistrust and apprehension. This, not bunkering ourselves in separate homelands is a practical and ethical program for the future.
    Alison went ahead and struck back at some of Lempert’s foul vitriol in an earlier blog post, but it needs to be taken up here as well. Lempert’s obscene allegation that Alison’s participation in our letter was motivated by her desire for more money for research is particularly shocking for all who know her, since she has long been an active member of the Cambodian Students Association of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has participated in the Center for Khmer Studies Sre Ambil lecture series, has authored several articles in Touchstone highlighting the professional and artistic achievements of Khmer researchers and artisans and is affiliated with Heritage Watch. Anyone familiar with Alison’s work would have understood immediately that her call for a more developed archaeology of the Cham was meant to encourage us to think about ways in which Cham could be brought into positions at educational and research institutions that would allow them to make their history intelligible to their own community as well as the rest of the world. Only a person completely ignorant of Alison’s dedication to her discipline and her colleagues could possible dare to imagine that this was an attempt for her to line her pockets. But of course, Lempert doesn’t know Alison – or me, or Bjørn, but he didn’t let that stop him from attempting to defame us.
    We are very troubled that Mr. Lempert is associated with the Center for Khmer Studies and the Luce Foundation, and ask whether these organizations are aware of Lempert’s unprofessional manner toward other researchers and the extent to which his research, if it can be called that, is fraudulent. Mr. Lempert, every single one of your claims is not only false, but also without basis of any kind. You don’t appear to have any data upon which to make even wrong conclusions, much less right ones. What do you do exactly? Where do you work? No Cham has ever mentioned you to either me or Bjørn, and while the geographic area in which I work in is relatively small I still hear about other researchers working in the region. Bjørn has worked in every province in the country and he hasn’t heard of you either. Nobody seems to know you here… perhaps you’re not making an impression… but that’s just as well. You came out of nowhere to scrawl some drivel in a local paper and insh’allah you will go back to where you came from soon – never to push your lunatic Cambodia-as-Yugoslavia thesis on us again. If you would like to post an apology for impugning the professional and personal ethics of my colleagues and me, you know where to post it. If you’re not ready to be a man and face up to the fact that your research in this country is without merit and that you are totally unable to engage in a civil discussion with three anthropologist who tried to set you straight, then please, don’t bother writing any response at all. My colleagues and I are busy and would rather not spend any more of our valuable time dealing with your efforts to mislead the public or to characterize us as anything other than the committed anthropologists we are. Let’s let this be the last time my colleagues and I have to revisit this sordid affair – shall we?

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