ISIS attacks on Japanese hostages: A time for mourning and reflection.
Kevin P Clements
My heart goes out to the children,widow and wider family of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto who has apparently just been beheaded by IS militants in the Middle East. His murderer has indicated that Japan is now a target for wider militant activity.
People who engage in political violence of this sort are seeking to provoke an overreaction on the part of the aggrieved. In the face of such barbarism it is quite appropriate for people to feel frightened, sad, and impotent . It is vital that the Japanese government and any other government that finds itself in this appalling situation, however, takes time to reflect on a response that will hold the guilty accountable but not play into the hands of the violent. It is important that any response expresses outrage but is measured. It is particularly important to treat this action as an international crime rather than an act of war . Nothing would give ISIS more satisfaction than the Japanese government treating the individual who committed this act as representative of an aggressive state.
Thus far the responses have been appropriate. Japan has condemned the execution of Goto after efforts to secure his release. Prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said Japan would not give in to terrorism but would work with the international community to bring Goto’s killers to justice.The chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, condemning the execution described Goto’s apparent murder as “despicable”.
The challenge facing the Japanese government, however,is how to work with others to bring the murderer to justice without deepening or joining the allied military response which is exactly what IS is trying to achieve. If Japan decides to move from non combat to combat support , for example, this will make Japanese economic and political interests all across the Middle East fair game for IS militants. This is a moment for deep mourning in Japan not an occasion for jingoistic militarism. The West has to figure out better strategies if it wishes to secure the the immediate release of all the remaining hostages.
Unfortunately, ISIS has indicated that it is not a reliable negotiator although it is interesting to speculate on whether Kenji Goto would still be alive if Jordan had freed failed suicide bomber Rishawi from a Jordanian prison.
If the West is interested in nonviolent solutions to this appalling carnage then instead of expanded military activity it needs other brave interlocoturs like Kenji Goto to open up conversations with local tribal leaders and people close to them to see whether there is any chance of civilised conversation with people who engage in uncivilised behaviour. I know its a big and dangerous ask but we do not demonstrate moral superiority by responding to violence with more violence. We need to think calmly and creatively about ways of responding to brutality so that it is delegitimised, so that those who engage in it are held to account in national and international courts and so that they are punished f0r their crimes. As appalling as this incident is, it is no excuse for Prime Minister Abe or anyone else to expand military action against ISIS not does it provide a rationale for the Japanese Prime Minister to embark on deeper remilitarisation of Japan or more vociferous support for coalition air strikes against ISIS. To move in this direction would certainly become a self fulfilling prophecy. In a provocative statement to Premier Abe, the militant says: “Because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this man will not only slaughter Kenji but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”
If Japan wishes to avert this nightmare it need to respond calmly and fearlessly to these provocations. These two appalling nurders do not place Japan’s national security at risk. Japan will still be one of if not the safest society in the world. If it chooses to join the foolhardy western military responses to ISIS, however, it will make itself a target for violent jihadists. This is a moment to deprive ISIS of extra media oxygen. It is a time for familial and national mourning in Japan and a reassertion of civilised standards and the international rule of law. Even though the Japanese government claims that it does not have any military involvement in the campaign against Isis and that its assistance is purely humanitarian. The fact is that this non combat support is deliberately aimed at indirectly supporting the West’s combat operations. The Japanese people need to ask themselves, once again, do they want to jeopardise their pacifist status and their post war detachment from a variety of hot conflicts in order to get involved in other nation’s wars for other nation’s interests.