Adisturbing scene opens François Bizot’s new book. A fennec, a silky and affectionate nocturnal fox from the Sahara, which has been a much loved and cosseted pet, is battered to death against a wall by the author. This juxtaposition – softness and brutality – is the theme of Facing the Torturer, Bizot’s account of confronting the Khmer Rouge commander who held him prisoner for a little over two months in Cambodia, along with the way that evil lies in us all, even as it coexists with decency. Just because we are full of good intentions, Bizot argues, this never means that we cannot find ourselves caught up in criminal undertakings.
After doing his military service in Algeria in the early 1960s, Bizot studied Buddhism and went to Cambodia, where he took a job with the Angkor Conservation Centre, translating ancient manuscripts. He loved everything about his ‘second spiritual home’: its temples and trees, its ‘patchwork landscape’. When the Vietcong arrived