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“I am not Abe” Campaign Spreads in Japan

There is a new movement to show disapproval of Abe’s actions during his visit to the Middle East. The movement was triggered by comments made by Shigeaki Koga during his appearance on the TV show Hodo Station on January 23, 2015. He said, “If I were to protest, I would hold up a placard that says ‘I am not Abe’ and march.” This movement is gradually spreading among politically active people, primarily in social media such as Twitter, as well as with protests at the national Diet building in Tokyo. In a recent human chain protest against relocation of Futenma air base to another location (Henoko, Okinawa) some protesters held up a placards saying, “I am not Abe” in English. However, according to a recent survey by Kyodo News, 60% of people answered that they support Abe’s reaction to the hostage crisis. If we were to trust this survey, then the “I am not Abe” campaign cannot be seen to reflect the majority sentiment in Japan. 

The phrase “I am not Abe” is often used by people who have demanded the release of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, who use another similar phrase, “I am Kenji.” At first, “I am not Abe” was used to criticise Abe’s policy in the Middle East, but it started  being used to criticise Abe’s defense policies in general, such as “collective self defense.”  Koga is a former bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Since he resigned from METI, he has worked as a writer and a commentator. His books are mostly critiques of the Japanese bureaucracy based on his own hands-on experience. Many have even become best-sellers. Hodo Station is a popular news program that is broadcasted Monday through Friday at 9: 54 pm on TV Asahi (Channel 5). “Hodo” is a Japanese word that means broadcasting and journalism. Ichiro Furutachi is the main anchor of the show.

Below is the transcript of Hodo Station on January 23, 2015.

Furutachi:

I would like to ask you: you argue that it is important to distinguish the heinous deeds committed by ISIS from the background for those deeds. Could you elaborate on this point?

Koga:

Yes. I think that what ISIS has been doing is outrageous, but I admit that there are many people for whom ISIS’s message resonates. For example, after WWI, Great Britain and France drew borders that divided ethnic groups. As for current events, during the wars waged by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, many innocent civilians, including women and children, were killed. The claim made by ISIS that they aim to retaliate for these events is not off the mark, and there are many people who relate to the message. But, there are few people who justify killing people but there are many people who resonate with the ideology itself.  I think it is important for us to acknowledge the fact that people join ISIS because they are attracted to the ideology.

What surprised me was during his series of visits to  Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Jordan, Prime Minister Abe made several  speeches. As I listened to his speeches, I thought what “great”   performances! I felt that he was indicating that he is going to fight ISIS. However, after the hostage incident became public, it was clear that the Japanese government knew that ISIS took Kenji Goto as a  hostage and demanded a ransom. Then, I thought about the claim that the Japanese government prioritizes hostages lives right now. But is this really true? Normally, if hostages were taken and a ransom was being negotiated, the most important thing would be not to provoke the kidnapper.

Going against this common sense, this time, Prime Minister Abe went all the way to the Middle East, close to the location where the Japanese hostages were abducted, and he deliberately said “I will condemn ISIS. […] I will send aid of $20 billion to the countries that fight ISIS.” He sounded like he was declaring war on ISIS. If you were to interpret this from the perspective of ISIS, they might have originally been hoping to negotiate with the Japanese government, but after Abe’s public statements, they think that it is impossible for the Japanese government to negotiate. If it is impossible to use the hostages for negotiation, then they might think that they should use the situation for advertisement, or demanding even higher ransom. I feel like they ended up thinking like that.

But, I feel like Prime Minister Abe made his series of comments knowing the possibility that the lives of Japanese hostages might be sacrificed.

Furutachi:

What do you think? In your opinion, looking the movements of today and yesterday’s, I feel like the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense are looking to members of the coalition, like the UK and the US and Australia, for advice and help. It is not that it is wrong, but I wonder if in the negotiation progress, Japan is getting advice from the countries that conduct air strikes.

Koga:

 Yes. So, I feel like when Abe went to the Middle East, his priority was not the lives of Japanese people but rather Japan’s entrance into the coalition. Maybe it might be difficult for Japan to be an official member, but he wanted to demonstrate that Japan is at least a friend. In order to become associated with the coalition, Japan is best equipped to conduct air strikes and provide armaments to Iraq. However, Japan cannot do this at the moment, and therefore, what Prime Minister Abe really wants to do is impossible in truth. But, he wants to do that. The only thing he can do is to offer humanitarian assistance for the fight against ISIS, which he ended up doing. He ended up advertising this while in the middle east. In some sense, he achieved his goal. I think the US and the UK highly value highly Abe’s stance of not giving into terrorism, and giving money to people who fight terrorism.

The US and the UK recognize Abe as their friend, asking him to “hang in there” without giving in or paying a ransom. They will cheer for Abe. I feel like Japan is being dragged this direction more and more.

(During the press conference on January 23) Just as Goto’s mother was referring to the Constitution, we have to come back to the point where Japan is a country that does not wage war. Prime Minister Abe might want to say that Japan wants to join the coalition, but it is not possible, because Japan has a Peace Constitution.

 The hostage situation has ended up being used by the ISIS for advertising, and as a result, the wrong impression has been sent to the world that Japan believes that the US justice is Japanese justice and that Japan is willing to fight along the US and the UK.

In response to this, we have to be vocal that it is not true because Japan has never waged war (after the end of WWII). According to the constitution, Japan does not consider people who do not attack Japanese soil to be enemies. We want to get along with as many people as we can. I think that we need to say this to the world once again.

But, because of Abe’s remarks and ISIS exploiting the remarks, I think that people in Islamic countries have come to believe that Japan is like the US. In response to this, we need to say for example, “Prime Minister Abe may have given the world this impression, but we are different.”

In France, the French people marched holding up the placard that says “Je suis Charlie.” I would hold up a placard that says “I am not Abe” in order to emphasize that what Abe said is not true, and that Japanese people want to get along with other nations and peoples. Japan will not attack countries that do not attack Japan. Japan will not perceive countries as enemies if they do not attack Japan. I think it is important to spread this message.

Furutachi:

I think that there are people who support Mr. Koga’s opinion, there are those who do not support his opinion at all, and there are people who think that his opinion is only partially correct. But, what I feel after listening to his remarks is that due to the air strikes by coalition forces, many innocent women and children have died. We cannot compare the numbers since even the numbers of casualties are not revealed to us.

Under this situation, I think many people feel frustrated. Goto is currently held in captivity as a hostage even though he was trying to save these children and get information about the people who have been affected by air strikes. I think it is important how to see this.

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