Hostage Terror

April 9th, 2004

knifeMore details have come out about the three Japanese hostages held in Japan, some of them harrowing:

“The government will do its utmost so that those who have become hostages will be safely released as soon as possible,” he said, adding there is “no reason” for Japan to withdraw troops that are conducting humanitarian reconstruction aid for Iraqi people. …

Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the kidnappers shouted “Allahu akbar” — God is great — in the video and held knives to the throats of the Japanese. …

In the full video, four masked men point knives and swords at the blindfolded captives as they lay on the floor of a room with concrete walls.

At one point, a gunman holds a knife to the throat of one of the men, whose blindfold has been removed; his eyes widen in panic and he struggles to try to get free. The woman screams and weeps.

A Senior SDF (Self-Defense Forces) official said, “We could be laughed at by other countries if we run away.” Perhaps true enough, but it seems to me that this is not really the point. I think that it is a foregone conclusion that Japan will not agree to any sort of pullout in exchange for the hostages. The question is whether the hostage-takers, if they can even be contacted, will agree to anything less than a troop pullout as a reason for not killing the hostages.

And if the hostages are killed, especially if it done in a way that would shock the Japanese people–especially with such personal information, names and faces and families to associate with the victims–what will be the political fallout, not just for the current Koizumi government, but for the whole right-wing-led movement to remilitarize Japan?

Interestingly, the news reports in Japan seem to be emphasizing the fact that this terrorist group, calling themselves the “Mujahedeen Brigades,” is not on the list of known terrorist groups, and seem to be suggesting that this is not truly a political terrorist action, but rather one done for money or other non-political reasons.

I spoke to two Japanese acquaintances about the issue, one who supported sending the SDF forces, the other against. Both mentioned that the three people who went there went of their own volition, and they knew the risks; therefore, although this is a terrible thing, it is not really related to the SDF forces being in Japan. The target–three civilians–didn’t seem to make sense. Japan’s SDF forces, while armed, are only doing reconstruction work, so why target Japan? My friend who supported the SDF being there said that killing these three civilians wouldn’t change their mind on sending people to help reconstruct Iraq, though they did say that if SDF forces became the targets, they might change their opinion because it would clearly be too dangerous.

One factor that plays into this matter laterally is the nature of the SDF forces sent overseas. This is a political hot potato in Japan, though the lines are sometimes blurred. My friend who supported the SDF being in Iraq saw them as purely reconstruction workers, and while armed, armed only for self-defense. That much is of course true, but there are deeper politics involved. If the forces are only there for reconstruction, then why send military troops? My own belief is that this is a gradated political effort to transform Japan’s constitutionally mandated self-defense-only military stance into one that allows Japanese troops to go overseas–right now, just a fledgling step to do reconstruction, but as time goes on, perhaps they will take on more of a military role–one which would naturally evolve as armed Japanese soldiers are sent into combat zones.

So while I agree that the hostage situation is not really connected to the political situation per se, and the hostage takers chose a strange and perhaps even meaningless or powerless manner to effect change, this situation is a direct consequence of changing Japan’s military stance.


  1. Walter Stewart
    April 9th, 2004 at 13:13 | #1

    Clearly there are no easy answers regarding the Japanese hostage situation in Iraq, however in my opinion, the Occupation of Iraq boils down to whether a U.S. president and his cabal of flunkies and cronies can repeatedly and continuously lie to the world community and flaunt international laws without so much as a whimper from the developed countries of the world.

    As a matter of principle, all nations including Japan, should be true to themselves and to their ideals, and to act accordingly without fear of economic reprisals from superpowers such as the United States. The appeasement of bullies, no matter how expedient, will always lead to the sort of dilemma we find ourselves today with the three Japanese hostages.

    I believe the appropriate response would be for Japan to immediately denounce the deplorable situation in Iraq for what it is–anarchy and mayhem run amuck–and to reaffirm Japan’s humanitarian commitment to helping all people of Iraq by replacing its troops with civilian volunteers. Japan would most certainly alienate the Bush Administration and the NeoCons in the Pentagon, however I believe such action would be seen as a brave and courageous step in the right direction.

  2. April 10th, 2004 at 03:39 | #2

    The BBC this morning was interviewing someone and he found it “unthinkable” and “disturbing” to think that in the U.S. war proponents thought they would be greeted in Iraq as liberators and that the Iraqis would welcome an occupying army. Of course, this is exactly what they thought. I agree with you, the U.S. is the biggest part of the problem here.

  3. April 10th, 2004 at 10:54 | #3

    What can be done? We really do not see an answer. Japan, like Austrailia and England (and everyone else on Earth), was completely against the war, but its leaders (as with Aus & Eng) didn’t let that stop them, so if the hostages are killed, there might be a change in government or an anti-Koizumi reaction. Considering that we are evacuating districts we took for granted as ours and keeping in mind American attitudes toward the lives of even people helping us, we do not see a rescue happening. The Koreans were released, and maybe the terrorists will get some humanity with their hope of retaking their country, but this really looks like a horrible doomed foregone conclusion.

    It’s insane because it isn’t like Japan is Israel or England, it’s not like Japanese troops are squashing Iraq as a country the way Bremer is giving contracts only to American companies while Iraqis who could do the same job cheaper and quicker starve. One of those guys was a great activist from right out of secondary (high) school, he was there to help with depleted uranium. He was there to help with depleted uranium! If anyone was there to help the Iraqi people it was him. This is such a mess.

    Somehow, if the immolation does happen, the wahhabi al-Bushi in their vacation home in Texas are should be forced to watch it with God’s voice saying, “You did this.” Of course if they look at IX/XI and the rest of Iraq and Afghanistan as a success…

  4. Tom
    April 10th, 2004 at 15:38 | #4

    nomoremisterniceblog has an interesting roundup of the wingnuts’ new push to demonize the three J hostages, because one of them may have posted something mildly critical of depleted uranium, which would of course make him a rabid anti-American terrorist, right?

  5. April 10th, 2004 at 18:32 | #5

    This event proves that the terrorists have it out for everyone not jus the infidels of the west. The dont care who you are, if your not one of them your as good as dead. they are fanical irrational people and they will stop at nothing to destroy everyone who doesnt agree with their beliefs.

  6. Luis
    April 10th, 2004 at 20:28 | #6

    “This event proves that the terrorists have it out for everyone not jus the infidels of the west. ”

    Let’s not jump to conclusions. Though this will have a direct effect on the Japanese government, this group is not representative of all the groups working in Iraq. For all we know, these guys could be anyone, either the biggest group or just a few thugs on the street. From their choice of targets, it would suggest that they don’t know the best way to get what they want.

    However, I would agree that if you’re an Iraqi or someone else fighting against the Iraq occupation, probably anyone you don’t like is considered fair game…

  7. April 11th, 2004 at 05:29 | #7

    We change position:

    We are dealing with nationalists (not the Many-Banner?d Hordes of Islam, ye wingnuts!): witness (as at the excellent they are now shouting “No Shia, No Sunni” and are pretty much the elusive “unified Iraq”. They are united, they want Bremer out.

    Their beef with Japan is hardly religious or part of a global clancyspiracy. They want to disrupt the Coalition of the Bribed. That’s what they’re after, a strike against Bush, not Japan. They want Japan to cease to be an ally of Bush helping the conquest, but they might accept real Japanese aid later under non-American auspices.

    And we see no reason to disagree with opposition to an illegal gang of cronies helping a massive war crime. Japan should pull out, make a big show of “F[orget] Bush” (the way Gerhard Shr?der got re-elected), but be ready to come back on legal terms accepted by instead of imposed on the new Iraqi people.

    And if Japan does pull out and the barbarians burn the hostages anyway, we’ll just do what we always do. They always recite this meaningless garbage, “you cannot negotiate with terrorists”, and meanwhile they do it all the time, Israel does it on a regular basis.
    If they burn the hostages we simply firebomb the entire district-and the sad truth that you have been probably kept from is that firebombing is our normal way of dealing with Iraqis civilian and military, terrorst and bystander.

    Remember, the way such monstrous ideas become possible to the Iraqi victims of American terror and genocide (under Americans directly or through their agent Saddam) is because that is the stuff of their daily lives.

  8. April 11th, 2004 at 06:26 | #8

    kei and yuri: exactly.

    The shills are trying to twist this situation and make it part of the “terror war” but forget to quickly that the invasion was an illegal one to begin with. The Bush administration goes to great lengths to make Iraq appear to be a focus point for “foreign terrorists,” obscuring the fact that Iraqis want the occupation to end. As a professor of mine succinctly put it, “thanks for getting rid of Saddam; don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” It’s a sign of genius to hold two seemingly opposing ideas in your mind at once, and Bush (amongst other righties) just doesn’t have that.

  9. April 11th, 2004 at 08:39 | #9


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