Calls are rising — particularly from within the government and the ruling coalition — to beef up security measures in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. During special Diet discussions, held right before the deadly attacks, while the legislature was not in an official session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mentioned the idea of giving the government emergency powers during crises as a theme on which to amend the Constitution. This raises concerns that the latest terrorist incident may serve as a convenient pretext for Abe to push his agenda of constitutional revision.
One thing is clear — the government bears the burden of proof to demonstrate that any anti-terrorism measures it comes up with would deter terrorist activities. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki preaches the necessity of making the act of conspiracy a crime. But he does not explain how that would prevent terrorist attacks. Abe would likely be unable to give a convincing explanation of why changing the Constitution to give the government massive powers to respond to a situation that it defines as an emergency would contribute to protecting the public safety.
What I would like to know is whether the police, which were incapable of preventing the terror attacks launched by the Aum Shinrikyo cult 20 years ago, have reflected on their shortcomings and improved their operations. In 2010, internal police documents concerning a probe into the affairs of Muslim residents of Japan that falsely determined that some of them were terror suspects were leaked on the Internet. Is it certain that such sloppy intelligence operations would never be repeated? There is a risk that the terrorist attacks in Europe will be used as an excuse by Japan’s authoritarian lawmakers and police bureaucrats to expand their powers.
On the very day the Paris attacks took place, the Foreign Ministry put up a help wanted ad to recruit experts on Middle East affairs to work part-time. The conditions are shabby — three days of work per week with no social insurance benefits for a job that requires high foreign-language skills and at minimum a graduate-level academic background.
Beefing up intelligence capabilities became part of the national agenda under the Abe administration, which in 2014 established a domestic version of the U.S. National Security Council. But the administration plans to rely on part-timers to help analyze the Middle East situation — the most crucial part of anti-terrorism efforts. Japanese politicians and bureaucrats share the illusion that problems will be resolved once a new organization or a system has been created. It’s no laughing matter that Japan’s crucial intelligence matters are handled by anti-intellectual politicians and government officials.
What needs to be examined first is just how seriously the government has pursued efforts to thwart terrorism under the existing legal framework. We should never repeat the days when fears of terrorism were used to justify giving the government unconditional powers.
Now that the new security legislation makes it possible for the Self-Defense Forces to use force abroad, how much will Japan involve itself in the international community’s war on terrorism? It may become necessary to use force to fight fanatic groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram, which totally disregard humanity and human rights. Such use of force, however, always carries the risk of harming innocent civilians. The war on terrorism waged since Sept. 11, 2001 — especially since the Iraq War — has produced large numbers of victims and intense hatred, which in turn has produced new breeds of fanatic terrorists. The world shudders when more than 100 people are killed in Paris. But news of large numbers of unintended civilian deaths in the Middle East in mistaken bombings by U.S. forces hardly attracts attention. This disparity will continue to breed more terrorists.
In short, I believe, the terrorism problem will not be resolved by force or any other means. Japan, which since the end of World War II has given up the use of force except to defend itself, will have no choice but to resign itself to this reality.
It would be unrealistic to proclaim that Japan can reconcile the Western powers and the Muslim world. But what it can do is to sympathize with the people who have been pawns in the war on terrorism and extend them a helping hand. It should not rally behind the major powers that use force out of a desire for revenge.
While reiterating that terrorism cannot be tolerated in the name of humanity and human rights, Japan should strongly declare that the lives of people in the Middle East on whom the use of force by the major powers have inflicted great suffering have the same value as those of any other people.
Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University in Tokyo.
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