Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"It's the culture!"

Culture is often used as an explanation for why some unusual things happen. Here is one example. When a gunman killed 8 Hong Kong tourists in Manila, the SCMP reported:

City University criminologist Dennis Wong Sing-wing said if the drama had occurred in the United States or on the mainland, the gunman would have been killed much earlier.

"It may be due to cultural differences. Filipinos are more easygoing and peace-loving so that they tend not to adopt fierce action. If the same scenario happened in the US or China, snipers would have killed the gunman a long time ago," Wong said.

"The negotiators might also have failed to assess the situation correctly, thinking it could be solved without force, as the gunman released a number of hostages."


Blaming this terrible crime and botched rescue on "culture" is ridiculous. In fact, it is no explanation at all. Many have even claimed the opposite, that there is a "culture of violence" in the Philippines (see this article in Global Nation, a Philippino online publication), and The New York Times had an article just half a year ago discussed the "culture of violence" that results from arguments over bad singing of "I did it my way" by Frank Sinatra. A better explanation was provided by a security officer in another article, also published in the SCMP:

The police assault on the bus, according to a French security expert, was “badly prepared and risky”.

The police who stormed the bus in Manila did not have specialist training and “visibly lacked adequate equipment and tactical competence”, said Frederic Gallois, who once commanded France’s elite hostage rescue unit.

After seeing live television images of the operation, the former colonel said that “one cannot understand what justified this badly prepared and risky assault.”

The police, for example, did not attempt a surprise tactic like entering the bus at several points and had also stayed too long outside the vehicle before launching their assault, he said.

Bad planning, bad government, incompetence. Common in poor countries. Simple as that. No need to resort to "culture."

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