Letter: Timor crooner

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The Independent Culture
Sir: David Usborne, in his report "General croons as his soldiers preside over the death of Dili" (13 September), illustrates succinctly the gulf in cultural understanding that pervades the reporting of the East Timor tragedy. This gulf contributes to growing distrust, mutual antipathy and further delay to resolution of this disaster.

Having recently returned from working for two years in Indonesia, I am all too aware of the potential for Westerners' angry frustration at the Indonesian government's apparently merciless attitude. The general's crooning appeared callous, and indeed we would be shocked if a senior officer were to do this in the UK. In Indonesia, however, such "group karaoke" is a commonplace social event, akin to having a drink in the local.

Mr Usborne is successful, however, in exhibiting this military leader's lack of cultural sensitivity towards Western interpretations, an ignorant flippancy which only further inflames simmering tempers among diplomats and the press corps.


London E1