On top down under, close-in is a far out place

An interesting piece in today’s Melbourne Age, based on the transcript of Mohammed Haneef‘s interrogation by the Australian police, says it is illuminative of the “ill-lit gulf of misunderstanding that exists between the hugely different cultures of the East and West”.

Dr Haneef can speak English, and the interrogation takes place in English. But, writes Sushi Das, “good communication is not just about literally understanding the words spoken, but also about detecting the nuances embroidered in those words.”

“The police struggle to understand Haneef’s family connections. They also appear to lack a rudimentary understanding of basic terms. Haneef explains he is a Muslim. To work out if he is Sunni or Shiite, the policeman asks: “You said you were Islam, do you ascribe to any sort of strain?”

“Perhaps it’s just the oddity of spoken words written down, but an understanding of Islam as the religion and a Muslim as a follower of that religion might have made for sharper communication. Later, Haneef tries to explain the concept of Mufeed—a club of doctors who get together to socialise.

“Asked whether the word is Indian or Arabic, Haneef says it means “something beneficial”, adding “It’s, that’s it from Udo …” “So it’s an Udo?” asks the policeman. Could Haneef have said or meant that Mufeed has its origins in the Urdu language? Is it possible that police did not know Urdu is an Indian language?

“At the end of the interview Haneef is asked whether he has anything to add. “I haven’t done any of the crimes,” he said. “I don’t want to spoil my name and my profession.” In typical Indian fashion a man in a desperate situation raises the last thing he can cling to—his honour.

“In the West, where the concept of good character has long been replaced by the notion of a great personality, honour may seem quaint. But in the East, it is central to life. Did the police understand that?”

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