Surely if a prize were to be awarded for the week’s most controversial article, it would go to Shukan Shincho’s piece titled “If you’re traveling abroad, here is a phrase from the Quran you should memorize.”
The passage, known in Arabic as the Shahada, is the basic statement of the Islamic faith. It translates into English as “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” Shukan Shincho transliterates the original phonetically using katakana.
The article was written in response to the militant jihadis who murdered 22 people — including seven Japanese — on July 1 but spared the lives of fellow Muslims. Shukan Shincho’s article suggests that knowing the Shahada may help Japanese survive a similar situation in the future.
“These extremely simple phrases express the basics of the faith,” Shuji Hosaka, assistant director of the Japan Association for Middle East Studies, tells the magazine. He says the equivalent in Buddhism would be “Namu Amida Butsu,” which has been translated in a number of ways, including “I take refuge in Amida Buddha” or “Homage to Amida Buddha.”
That said, the notion that reciting a short passage from a holy book will stop a suicidal terrorist from killing you probably makes less sense than avoiding travel to risky destinations in the first place. Still, Osamu Miyata, chairman of the Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Japan, thinks it can’t hurt.
“If travel to a Muslim country is unavoidable, saying this (phrase) might help keep you safe. So it should definitely be memorized,” he advises.
Shukan Bunshun magazine (Jul. 14) assembles evidence that the Islamic State group intends to go gunning for more Japanese.
“Just as they do at home, Japanese, when abroad, tend to move in groups, and virtually none of them carry a gun. For terrorist organizations, that makes them easy targets,” points out Koichi Oizumi, a crisis management professor at Aomori Chuo Gakuin University. “In the latest incident in Dhaka, pleading to the hostage-takers by saying ‘I am Japanese’ completely backfired. When terrorists strike, the first thing a person should do is duck down and take cover; but since incidents like random shootings don’t happen here, it’s hard for Japanese to react quickly to a threat.
“Organizations and companies that dispatch staff to areas with the possibility of terrorism should adopt safety measures as part of their training and should conduct practice drills,” Oizumi adds.
In the same issue, Isao Itabashi, a specialist in terrorism at the Council for Public Policy, notes that Dabiq, the online PR publication issued by the Islamic State group, “made references to targeting Japanese in four issues between February and December” of 2015. “As terrorists in other parts of the world under the sway of the Islamic State group are reading Dabiq, I would say that the risk of more Japanese falling victim to terrorism has increased.”
At the end of June, a group claiming ties to the Islamic State group circulated a list of over 4,000 names of people singled out for assassination. Of these, 69 were Japanese. The list included their full names, email addresses, places of employment and telephone numbers.
“We are aware of the list’s existence,” confirmed an unnamed source in the government’s security organization. “It seems that the names of participants at an IT event held in the U.S. were leaked to an Islamic State-affiliated website. That suggests the danger to those on the list is probably low; but since it does contain personal details such as actual addresses, we can’t say that there’s zero possibility that, for example, they won’t be attacked by someone sympathetic to the Islamic State’s cause.”
Shukan Bunshun’s article ominously concludes that the current wave of terrorism will continue to touch Japan.
While the Dhaka murders have left the nation in shock, tabloid Nikkan Gendai (Jul. 13) reminds international travelers they are just as likely, if not more so, to encounter homicidal bad guys in non-Muslim countries.
It makes this assertion based on the number of troubles reported by Japanese embassies and consulates abroad, which is complied by the Foreign Ministry.
“For more than 10 years running, the country in which the most Japanese have been killed has been the Philippines,” an unnamed travel agent tells the tabloid. “Many of the victims were middle-aged or elderly males who traveled there after retiring. But Filipina ‘women of the night’ work scams with their protectors. It’s also a country where guns are easily obtainable.”
Travel writer Teruno Watanabe warns that female travelers also need to take precautions to keep from winding up in trouble.
“Over the past several years, the Philippines has become a popular destination for young women seeking a place for inexpensive foreign language study,” she says. Indonesia is another one of her concerns: “From some time ago, I’ve heard that in Bali the beach boys come on strong, telling women they want to live in Japan. But afterward these women vanish. One needs to be careful.”
But it’s not just Asian nations that travelers should be worried about; Germany and other European countries are also a concern.
“Gang rapes have become commonplace at events,” warns Watanabe. “Actually in EU member countries, popular outdoor events like musical festivals are high-risk places for females and they should be avoided.”
She adds that cases of rape have also occurred in other destinations popular with female travelers, including Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.
“In Asia, cases of rape involving Japanese are most numerous in South Korea,” said the aforementioned travel agent. “They are also frequent in India, because of discriminatory attitudes toward females. And in China, male travelers need to be careful if they summon a call girl to their hotel room, as they may be setting themselves for entrapment by robbers.”
As this article was going to press, news bulletins were reporting what appears to be a terrorist incident in Nice, France. Mid-July marks the beginning of Japan’s overseas travel season and, thanks to lower oil prices and appreciation of the value of the yen, travel agencies and airlines were no doubt anticipating a windfall this summer. It’s possible they may instead be facing a run of cancellations.
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