On the Internet, opinion swings vs Japanese hostages

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TOKYO: As the lives of two Japanese appeared to hang in the balance on Thursday, their plight touched off a range of responses on the Internet, with many sniping at them for choosing to go to a war zone and others urging understanding.

A video posted on Tuesday by the Islamic State group set a 72-hour deadline to pay $200 million for the lives of journalist Kenji Goto and self-styled security contractor Haruna Yukawa.

“Reckless” and “irresponsible” was the predominant opinion by prominent bloggers and Twitter users, as armchair commentators declared the pair had brought the situation upon themselves. They questioned whether a ransom would be good use of public money.

“Neither Mr. Goto nor Mr. Yukawa went to Syria upon request from the Japanese government,” reads a Twitter message apparently posted by Atsushi Watanabe, a former Diet member from the Liberal Democratic Party.


“Maybe I’m heartless, but we cannot give in to the Islamic State group’s terrorist acts,” he continued, backing the government’s declaration that it would not support terrorism.

Fifi, an Egyptian personality popular with Japanese TV viewers, suggested on Twitter that Yukawa and Goto had shown lack of judgment.

“They needed to know the possible results before going to that region, especially now,” she wrote of the unstable situation. “They’re responsible,” she declared.

Retweeted by more than thousand Twitter users, her message fired up further condemnation. Some users created fake accounts to mock Yukawa and his self-acknowledged attempt to commit suicide in the past by cutting off his genitals.

On the popular 2channel forum in particular, many declared that not a penny of taxpayer money should be spent to save Yukawa’s life, let alone the $100 million demanded.

“I want only Goto released,” read one comment on the site.

Before he headed for Syria, Goto recorded a video in which he said, “Whatever happens, this is my responsibility.” The footage aired nationwide on the Fuji TV network.

This, some Internet commentators declared, absolved the nation of having to help.

However, others defended the men. Tokyo-based lawyer Hajime Kanbara told The Japan Times that, whatever led them to Syria, “use of the word ‘self-responsibility’ does not apply to these people” because they obviously cannot control their situation.

“We shouldn’t forget that they are the victims who have been kidnapped, a crime for which they shouldn’t be blamed,” Kanbara said.

Kanbara witnessed a similarly harsh reaction from the public while assisting a group taken hostage in Iraq in 2004. Upon their return to Japan, the three ended up being compelled to apologize. Some even demanded that they pay back the money spent on securing their release.

He also indicated that the criticism may not only linger with the pair for life, should they survive and return home, but may also influence the government’s decision on how to handle such crises.

The group in the 2004 case faced severe criticism for their supposed recklessness in traveling to a place designated as dangerous.

“But people tend to jump to conclusions if they lack knowledge,” said Megumi Ito, director of a TV production company and the producer of the film “Fallujah — After the Iraq War and Japanese Hostage Crisis.”

The film documented the subsequent lives of the three former hostages. Through it, Ito wanted to make people think what “jiko-sekinin” or self-responsibility means.

The three hostages went to Iraq unilaterally as peace activists because they felt responsible for what was happening, as citizens of Japan, which backed the US-led invasion. But Ito regrets that people continued to criticize the hostages without seeking to learn what conditions in Iraq were really like and why they went there.

“People shouldn’t decide whether to save someone’s life based on their background or personal achievements. The discussion on what steps should be taken to solve the hostage crisis should be made based on other calculations and criteria,” Ito said.

TNS

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