Language Fog

The starting point is a post by Abu Aardvark:

Bowden also frames his piece by noting the hypocrisy of Arab condemnation. Showing immense originality, he figures out all by himself that it might be effective to compare the response to Abu Ghraib to the (alleged) non-response to the beheading of Nick Berg. Wow, never thought about that before - good one, Bowden!  Except he puts it this way: "Maybe it's just me, but did I miss a similar storm of moral outrage from the Arab world over the pious Islamists who got out their video cameras to record the gruesome beheadings of Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg?" 

To which we can only respond, yep.  Must be just you.  Because there were lots of Arabs and Muslims - prominent ones, ordinary ones, the whole spectrum - who expressed disgust and outrage over Nick Berg.  Maybe he missed them because he wasn't looking for them?  Or perhaps because it might have interfered with his breathtakingly original insight?  Or, just maybe, possibly, because he doesn't speak Arabic and therefore doesn't have the slightest clue what Arabs did or didn't say?

The problem here was two-fold --- one goes in with an assumption and one does not have sufficient background information.  That doesn't stop one from running roughshod by imposing one's assumption with insufficient facts.

This logically brings us to the subject of holy relic of the Buddha's finger.

Huh, you say?  Here is the BBC's report:

China is lending Hong Kong one of its most important relics, to mark the anniversary of the Buddha's birthday.  A relic purported to be the Buddha's finger has been flown to the territory in time for the celebrations on Wednesday.

But critics have dismissed the move as a political gesture to appease the people of Hong Kong, many of whom are angry after China refused to let the territory directly elect its next leader in 2007.  The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and opposition leaders claim Beijing has not honoured a promise to give it a high degree of autonomy.

"Beijing is trying to get close to Hong Kong people and cool the heated political atmosphere," Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said of the finger's loan.  "This is part of China's propaganda exercise," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Lee Cheuk-yan compared the event to last year's visit by China's first astronaut Yang Liwei, which critics saw as an attempt to foster a sense of Chinese nationalism in Hong Kong.

It is as if the western media have made up their minds that the only issue on the minds of the people of Hong Kong must be democracy.  Therefore, all actions must be interpreted in that light.  PLEASE!  Or, shall I repeat again: PLEASE!  Can you give China some credit?  Can you let the believers celebrate on their own?  In this case, if China shipped the holy relic to Hong Kong, then it was a political ploy; if China did not ship the holy relic to Hong Kong, then it would also be a political ploy.  Everthing has to be looked through this prism because nothing else exists.  Once upon a time, the Chinese Communists also saw everything through another prism known as class struggle.

The two cases here are different.  Mark Bowden is declaring that the Arab world was indifferent because he couldn't find any reports in the English-speaking media on the subject.  This is a case of a false negative.  The BBC is declaring that this was a cynical political gesture by China because some pro-democracy lawmaker said so and they never bothered to ask what the numerous Buddhist followers think.  This is a case of a false positive.  What the two cases have in common is the lack of local knowledge in language and culture.