Bombs and Phantasmatic Authority

Well well. The news is all over the web, the papers, and in the rumor mills: three bombs were discovered and defused (read, ‘exploded’) at the base of the much-maligned Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument. [pics]

Of course, the monument is not, in fact – and contrary to the assertions of both local Khmer and ex-pat Khmer nationalists – particularly ugly by the standards of state monuments. It is however, a representation of an official truth that is reviled by most Khmer – that Vietnam and Cambodia are friends.

As such, many people – but especially those who do not live in the country – have been writing their comments to the effect that more of this sort of activity is necessary. A few, more conspiratorial but possibly just more insightful, have laid the blame at the hands of the Cambodian government itself.

This latter idea is common enough: when a state initiates a crackdown against its own populations, or goes to war against a foreign enemy, it needs a good excuse to do so, and attacking itself is as good an excuse as any, as long as blame can be placed on the enemy.

Begoña Aretxaga, who we lost far too early, was a fantastic anthropologist whose work on Basque political funerals and ‘phantasmatic authority’ is stunning, wrote of precisely these processes in the Spanish state’s relationships with Basque separatism, where the government attacked itself and then blamed ETA. Similarly, Dario Fo’s unbelievably funny and pointed “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” relates the true story of an anarchist murdered by the police, who were investigating a bombing planted…by the police. Far from seeming ‘conspiratorial,’ a brief survey of counter-insurgency history shows that the creation of ‘phantasmatic authority’ – by ‘mimicking’ in advance the tactics the state wants to attribute to ‘terrorists,’ and then claiming the prerogative of protective aggression, shows that it is far more the norm than the exception.

Is this a case of botched terror or successful phantasmatic conjuring? The next few weeks might supply the answer, depending on the state’s response. Will they crackdown further on the Khmer Krom community? Will they blame the SRP or their non-existent ‘Army’ (another clear case of phantasmatic authority), or even Kem Sokha’s new Human Rights Party?

This might be related.


One thought on “Bombs and Phantasmatic Authority

  1. Pingback: buddh•ism ad•junkt › Phantasmatic Authority Redux

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