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SDF aid mission mars Japan's peace image, Arab interviewees say in film

The deployment of Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq on a humanitarian mission puzzles Arabs because it runs counter to their long-held image of a peaceful Japan, according to a documentary film based on eight interviews with people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

“The SDF Dispatch to Iraq Seen Through Arab Eyes,” previewed last week in Tokyo, asked the eight, who include journalists, political activists and a film director, about how they viewed Japan’s decision to send troops to Samawah, southern Iraq. Some Palestinians in a refugee camp in Syria also added comments.

“Many people there were shocked (by Japan’s SDF deployment) and just wanted to know why,” said Najib El-Khash, a Syrian journalist living in Nagoya who conducted interviews along with film director Makoto Sato.

Sato said the interviews, conducted in March, were for another film now in the making about how Japan’s Constitution is viewed overseas.

He decided to compile the documentary focusing on the SDF dispatch because he felt an urgent need for Japanese to “listen to the voices from far away amid the government’s sudden decision to make the SDF join the U.S-led multinational force.”

While people interviewed saw the SDF dispatch as Japan joining the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq, they also appeared to be struggling to hold onto their traditional image of Japan as a good friend of the Arab people.

Some even said they thought the dispatch was the result of pressure from the United States and not a proactive choice by Japan.

“Japan has been the symbol of civilization, science and technology,” Hani Waheeb, an Iraqi exile and writer living in Syria, said in expressing what is considered general Arab respect for Japan.

Waheeb observed that the SDF dispatch was “a sudden shift in policy” and would not benefit Japan in the long run because it would destroy the long friendship between Japan and Arab countries built on economic and cultural exchanges.

Omar Amiralay, a Syrian documentary film director, said he believed Japan had “a good and peaceful intention” in sending the troops.

But he expressed worry that the SDF personnel may find themselves embroiled in combat. “I don’t know what will happen to the peaceful intention when Japanese (soldiers) become victims of resistance movements. That could make them aggressive.”

El-Khash said most Arab people have a strong image of Japan as a peaceful country. And most Arabs believe Japan is the sole power that has continued to support Arab causes, he said.

El-Khash, who was born and grew up in Syria, also had a “stereotypical image of Japan,” he said.

Being a journalist, El-Khash said he and other Arab journalists are having difficulty trying to write balanced stories about the SDF mission.

He said he does not want Arab people to hate Japan by filing stories on the issue, but at the same time he doesn’t wish to write along the lines of Japan’s claim that the SDF dispatch is purely humanitarian.

The documentary is scheduled to run from July 31 to Aug. 6 in Osaka. A video copy is available at SIGLO, the film production company, for 2,500 yen for individual use or for 10,000 yen for theater use.

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