11 September and the Clash of Civilizations: The Role of the Japanese Media and Public Discourse

Article excerpt

THE ATTACKS IN NEW YORK AND Washington on 11 September came as a tremendous shock to Japan. The majority of the population felt sympathy with the victims and understood to some extent the U.S. anger, which led to the emergence of a new formulation of "the war against terrorism". This general atmosphere allowed the Japanese government to take further steps toward legitimizing the overseas dispatch of its Self-Defense Forces (SDF), which had been a major public policy issue since the 1991 Gulf War. When war came to be seen as unavoidable, however, the traditional mind-set of Japanese pacifism started to set in, and a rejection of the "clash of the civilizations" thesis began to be expressed in public discourse. However, they did not reject the idea itself, but rejected its adoption to Japan; that is, Japan was seen to be outside of the two-worlds in conflict.

This general feeling of "having little involvement" may be partly due to the relatively small size of the Muslim community in Japan, which numbers only a few thousand people. Very few incidents of harassment or hate crimes against Muslims have been reported. This also indicates, in a way, that the understanding of Muslim society among the Japanese people is very poor. Here, the pacifists' logic runs as follows: we do not understand Islam nor Muslim society very well, and so we cannot pass a judgment before we learn about them. However, we know the U.S. well, and what is important for Japan is to examine our relations in order to not be a loser in this clash between "the U.S. and Islam." (1)

In this essay, I will begin by surveying political developments in Japan after 11 September, focusing especially on the debate on the overseas deployment of the SDF among policy-makers. In Part 2, I will compare the major discourses in the Japanese media regarding 11 September and "the war against terrorism." In the final part, I will look at how previous wars have defined the Japanese mind-set for facing the present situation, and how domestic factors dominated Japan's foreign policy decision-making.


The Immediate Reaction of the Government of Japan

The Japanese Government's first reaction was to present an appearance that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was devoting himself fully to this crisis. The aim of this policy was to avoid a repetition of the failure of his predecessor Yoshiro Mori. (2) Koizumi sent a message to U.S. President George W. Bush denouncing the attack as a "mean and outrageous act that cannot be forgiven," and stating that "I feel great anger." He followed by saying, "representing the people of Japan, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the US president and the people of the U.S."

Secondly, the government of Japan decided to tighten security at all important government institutions and U.S. bases. Defense Agency chief General Nakatani placed all SDF units on maximum alert to guard against possible attacks. Here, defects in the SDF legislation were revealed with regard to guarding U.S. military facilities in Japan. Though this was requested by the U.S., the existing SDF law did not allow it. In response, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) called for a legislative change, and the three ruling Parties (3) agreed to it on 18 September. Koizumi soon went much further; on 14 Sept., he mentioned that Japan planned to assist the U.S., though without the use of force, saying; "Japan will contemplate ways to provide as much assistance and co-operation as possible, once the U.S. takes specific steps."

The government policy to loosen restrictions on the activities of the SDF became obvious in Koizumi's announcement of the seven-point plan issued on 19 September 2001. He clearly stated that Japan would: (1) take steps to enable the SDF to provide logistical support to the U.S. military in the event of a retaliatory strike in areas such as medical services, transportation and logistics; (2) take steps to strengthen security measures at important facilities in Japan, including U. …