Mon, Oct 03, 2011 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTERS ]

I would venture that there may be a tinge of jealousy in Dower that Hemingway’s work is more famous than Dower’s Cultures of War. As I said, I may be missing the back story to Cole’s piece, but it does seem he is crossing the line in using his position to promote what he feels people can or cannot express their opinions on.

Jerome Keating

Taipei

J. Michael Cole responds:

I invite readers who claim that I was telling expatriates and migrants that they cannot voice any opinion and should “shut up” because they are not Taiwanese to re-read my article. What I suggest is simply more humility when we do so, whether we’re English teachers passing through for a couple of years, some “expert” at a reputable think tank, or a migrant who has made Taiwan his or her home.

As a journalist and columnist, I believe I owe it to my readers to demonstrate that I will not shy away from revisiting my assumptions, even when doing so proves that I have been wrong in the past. I would much rather sound contradictory than show signs of a stagnant mind.

The exercise of journalism is a learning experience and its practitioners, those who take the profession seriously at least, will inevitably be changed by it. The op-ed was part and reflective of my ongoing effort — and yes, struggle — to get closer to the “truth,” without any pretension of ownership.

In no way was this an attempt to “appease” the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) following their attack on my person last month, or the leadership in Beijing, or to insult fellow expatriates. Rather, it is part of my endeavor to find the best voice possible to communicate with those whose identity and survival is at stake.

We all have a right to voice our opinions, but if we decide to become “involved” in Taiwanese politics, I contend that we should pause for a second and think about how our prescriptions are construed and digested, or whether they are even welcome, by Taiwanese.

Over the years I have had the honor of interacting with a great many Taiwanese military officials, politicians, academics and ordinary citizens, and during that time I have paid close attention to how they interact with expatriates. It has become evident to me that in many instances expatriates and Taiwanese were talking past each other when the former believed that we can “help” Taiwanese make policy decisions, decide who to vote for, or define their identity. Either expatriates were “right” and Taiwanese are always wrong, or there’s something we in the first category didn’t get.

If we’re seriously committed to participating in the Taiwan experiment, I think we owe it to ourselves — and to the principal subjects, the Taiwanese themselves — to question our assumptions and not immediately take it as a personal insult when we are told that we might be getting it wrong.

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