As a turbulent year of global insecurity and turmoil comes to a an end—with the US-led war against terrorism in full swing and with Indian and Pakistani guns trained on each other—expatriates living in Phnom Penh, while perhaps more aware of global politics, seem to be going about their business as usual.
While the consensus seems to be the US has entered a new era of vulnerability, foreigners living in Phnom Penh seem removed from world politics and secure in their safety.
Bharat Shah, a pharmaceutical expert from Bombay, India, said he is concerned for his family and relatives back home, but he just wants to go about his business.
“We are not here to discuss politics, we are here to do business. We are here as expats, so why should we discuss what is happening at home? What is going to happen in the future is going to happen anyway,” he said.
He also scoffed at the notion that tensions between India and Pakistan have made the journey to Cambodia.
“Basically, the main point is not that they are Muslims and we are Hindus, or Indians and Pakistanis,” Shah said. “Here we can sit together and eat together because we are not terrorists. The biggest problem is only terrorism and killing of innocent people.”
That may be true, but affairs back home still come up, Pakistani restaurateur Mohammad Noor-ullah said.
“Yes, we discuss politics, and of course we have different opinions. There are more Indians than Pakistanis here, but when we get outside our countries, we are all friends,” he said.
Britons also seem content in Phnom Penh, but for slightly different reasons. Somewhat used to a barrage of media coverage of events like the war in Afghanistan, British expatriates appear relieved to be away from all the news.
Emma, an English teacher, followed the news closely only for a week or so after the Sept 11 attacks. Tansy, a restaurateur, believes news agencies are ignoring other relevant stories while blowing the US-led campaign out of proportion. Neither woman would give her last name.
“The BBC has completely forgotten the genocide case against Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague at the moment,” Tansy said.
Most of the news coverage these days, though, is “completely irrelevant,” Emma said.
“I feel really removed from the hysteria over here,” said Tansy, who listens to the BBC World Service in her car on the way to work. “A lot of the time I’m glad I am here and not [home] being bombarded constantly with the media opinion, the way we were with the 1991 Persian Gulf War.”
US citizen Kathryn Lucatelli, an NGO worker, said she didn’t think her safety was an issue.
“I don’t come from a worrying family, but when you come right down to it, I feel that I am safer here in Cambodia [than in the US],” she said. “But also it’s not altogether unsafe in America.”
The US has become aware of its vulnerability, Lucatelli said.
Tansy and Emma, however, said terrorist attacks in England have long been a fear. Both said they couldn’t understand why there is so much hysteria surrounding it now.
“We’ve had [Irish Republican Army] attacks, and that never bothered anyone, and all of a sudden there is this frenzy,” Tansy said.
US citizens followed the events closely as they first began to unfold, Lucatelli said.
“It put America on par with the rest of the world. It showed us we were not exempt,” she said.
Both Emma and Tansy said they were glad to be overseas.
“I’d hate to be back at home. When you are back at home, everyone gets caught up in it, and everybody wants to know what’s going on, and it’s actually not that relevant,” Emma said.
“We probably have a more realistic perspective from over here,” Tansy said.