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Genocide Tourism in Cambodia is Voyeuristic and Macabre

Since when did dead people become a tourist attraction?

What happened in Cambodia in the 1970’s is almost beyond comprehension. Perhaps topping the list of 20th century mass murderers for psychopathic flair alone, Pol Pot reduced his country to ruins and wiped out around a quarter of the entire Cambodian population.

The genocide in Cambodia) was an example of what happens when ideology gets into the hands of a fanatic who has the power to make his fantasies come true. With the idea that the bourgeoisie had to be eliminated in order for a new society to be born, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge set about their task with a terrifying zeal. You had glasses? Dead. You could read? Dead. You’d been abroad? Dead.

People were taken out to the fields and the test for survival was whether you could climb a palm tree or not – if you couldn’t you were obviously an enemy of the honest, rural people. Dead.

We could go on.

What no one foresaw, however, was that 30 years on these scenes of inhuman cruelty, torture and mass murder would become tourist attractions for voyeuristic backpackers with cameras. Queuing up to enter the likes of the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, tourists assumed an awed expression and sombrely photograph the piles of skulls, the torture equipment and the confessions and photographs of the victims before they were killed.

And it’s total shit.

It’s a good thing that the genocide in Colombia has been documented and told to the world. It’s a good thing that Cambodian school children are taken on trips to witness their immediate history with their own eyes. And it’s nauseating that it should become a tourist attraction for those with a death fetish.

If you care about genocide and believe something should be done about it, there are any number of places in the world that could do with your attention right now. The Congo, Burma, the Ivory Coast, Palestine, Sudan and Georgia to name a few.

If you care about human suffering you could turn your attention to the issues of modern human slavery with trafficking in people, women forced into prostitution, child soldiers and the numerous, brutal dictatorships in the world who run torture programs of their own.

But come back from holiday with a digital camera full of skulls from a genocide in a culture you don’t understand, whose language you don’t speak, whose people you probably didn’t interact with beyond ‘put more marijuana on the happy pizza, please’, and really, all you’ve accomplished is to titillate your own sense of horror.