Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Nearly 30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian government and international community established a tribunal to prosecute leaders of the communist regime. The court’s creation was accompanied by numerous “restorative justice” outreach efforts, including psychological support for those who had survived the especially brutal state of Democratic Kampuchea period (1975-1979). Many of these psychological interventions were quite foreign to Cambodians, and drew upon transitional justice tropes highlighting the importance of “truth telling” and “bearing witness to atrocity.” This paper examines the implementation of one such method, “testimonial therapy,” among both Buddhist and Muslim Khmer Rouge survivors. Members of Cambodia’s Muslim minority have been identified as high-priority beneficiaries of restorative justice reparations projects because they were disproportionately targeted for persecution under the Khmer Rouge.
In addition to its aim as a vehicle for personal healing, testimonial therapy is meant to bring about social healing and reconciliation through the communal sharing of personal tragedy and public recognition of survivors’ suffering. Yet the application of therapy to Muslim communities (by Khmer Buddhists) generates narratives that mark them as Other within the Cambodian population. Drawing on anthropological literatures of narrative and self-making, this paper shows how the ways in which Buddhist and Muslim survivors narrate their encounters with divine agency reveal divergent conceptions of selfhood and its orientation either inward, toward Cambodia as both an ideal and physical place, or outward, toward external actors. These understandings have significant implications for attitudes toward historical responsibility.