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Commentary: Now is the time to deepen relations with the Middle East

  • 2015-02-03 15:00:00
  • , Asahi
  • Translation

(Asahi: February 3, 2015 – p. 1)

 

 By Tadao Onaga, Middle East and Africa Bureau chief

 

 Ten days after the extremist “Islamic State” uploaded the video showing they had taken Haruna Yukawa, 42, and Kenji Goto, 47, as hostages, the incident has ended in the worst possible way.

 

 The man in black has threatened to target Japanese nationals from now on. The bloody conflicts in the Middle East are no longer somebody else’s business for Japan. Although targeting Japan, which has steadily provided humanitarian aid, is unreasonable, it is simply not possible to reason with the “Islamic State.”

 

 The background to the rise of this group is the Iraq War from 2003, which has reportedly killed more than 100,000 ordinary citizens. Many people lost their loved ones as a result of the U.S. forces’ accidental bombings. The Middle East is a place where injustice and unfairness abound. This has given rise to anti-U.S. sentiments and nurtured radicalism.

 

 Another factor is the setback suffered by the Arab Spring pro-democracy movements of 2011. Public order deteriorated amid the political chaos, resulting in the proliferation of weapons. Young people who have lost hope in the future moved to Syria, where the civil war has turned into a quagmire. Among the many armed insurgent groups, the “Islamic State,” which has ample funds and which rules through a rigid theocracy, came to gain prominence.

 

 The “Islamic State” issued a declaration to “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” last year, prompting its sympathizers in the Western countries and Australia to start a frenzy of terrorist attacks.

 

 Muslims are concerned that fear of terrorism may aggravate prejudice and discrimination against them.

 

 A former journalist who lives in Cairo said: “It is truly regrettable that the two Japanese were killed, but I hope you understand that the ‘Islamic State’ has nothing to do with religion.”

 

 While the tyranny of the “Islamic State” is unforgivable for whatever reason, what needs to be done now is to face the reality in the Middle East calmly. The people’s daily life is devastated by war, terrorism, religious conflict, poverty, and social disparity and the ordinary folks suffer the most from the rise of the “Islamic State.”

 

 In Syria, fighting is taking place everywhere even if one flees the areas controlled by the “Islamic State.” The people there have nowhere to go. If the people lose hope on the international community due to their suffering, this will only play into the hands of the “Islamic State.”

 

 I am worried that Japan may distance itself from the Middle East as a result of the hostage crisis. The Middle East people will not be deceived by the propaganda of the “Islamic State” that Japan is no different from the U.S. and other countries that are conducting air raids. Now is rather the time for Japan to deepen its relations with the people in this region. There are so many things that need to be done for their livelihood, education, and other needs. (Slightly abridged)

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