Japan Stands to Lose in Muslim World by Supporting the War
John de Boer (GLOCOM Platform)
As the war in Iraq intensifies, opposition to what is being described as an unjustified war escalates in the Arab world. The situation is increasingly volatile with many Muslims interpreting the war as an attack against their civilization. Nevertheless, the Japanese prime minister signed on to the war campaign without delay by expressing his solidarity with the US and went to great lengths to defend its legality. Back in 2000, recognizing the importance of promoting mutual understanding between Japan and the Islamic world, the Japanese MOFA set up a study group on Islam. The goal of which was to "enhance the relationship between Japan and the World of Islam in the 21 century". However, considering Koizumi's explicit support for the war, the Japanese government is obviously backtracking on this commitment. A policy that many predict will have long-term consequences for Japan's image and interests in the 1.2 billion strong Muslim world.
Since the war has begun the reaction of Arabic news agencies has been full of anger. Many have warned of serious ruptures in relations between the Muslim world and those countries in the "Coalition of the Willing". On 21 March, the Syrian daily Tishrin stated that, "the USA is launching a war to intentionally kill and wipe out a people, land and nation by using destructive missiles". The other major Syrian newspaper, Al-Thawrah, remarked that, "it is not enough for them [the coalition] to see some Arab territories bleeding, our airspace and waters turned into passages of death". Making clear that the Muslim world did not interpret this as a "war of liberation", the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh noted that, "even if the Iraqi's hate Saddam they cannot love those who light fires in their airspace and destroy their positions". The Saudi based satellite station Al-Jazirah warned that "the American's, the British and all those who took part in the war will pay a heavy price for this adventure" (21 March)
In Palestine the message .is the same. Al-Quds newspaper reported on the 23 March that, "this destructive war will have effects and ramifications for American and British interests for many years to come". Al-Thawrah from Syria repeated that, "the US has greatly harmed its interests and credibility in the Middle East and has opened the gates of hatred and resentment against it among states and nations" (23 March)
News reports in the western media have also featured opposition among Muslim populations in Asia (see BBC). Hundreds of thousands have marched against the war and have initiated a boycott against US goods (Japanese products may be next). All are convinced that the war on Iraq is unjustified. All recognize that the US and its "Coalition of the Willing" have embarked on war without UN sanction.
Over the weekend, Yoshibumi Wakayama of the Asahi Shimbun echoed these sentiments by warning of an "incalculable loss for Japan" as it backed this "risky war" (21 March). In his article he indicated that America may have "pulled the trigger on this war to throw the world into unimaginable chaos". His conclusion was that, "America may win this war, but it could also lose its honor. The world now stands on the verge of chaos".
When explaining why he backs US, Koizumi highlights the importance of the Japan-US security alliance and places emphasis on the threat emerging from weapons of mass destruction held by North Korea. It is obvious that Japan requires US backing in this case. However, I wonder if Koizumi realizes the fact that his blatant support of US has simultaneously increased global insecurity with the war having rendered the UN powerless, the international community divided, the North Korean regime increasingly desperate to gain international attention, and the entire Muslim world shocked and angry. As Wakayama mentioned in his article, the war in Iraq has "created new enemies" for the US and Japan. For Muslims the US-led operation is not one of liberation. Considering this reality, it would be wise for Koizumi and his government to rethink its policy, or at minimum to go to great lengths to convince the Muslim world of Japan's "friendly" intentions. However, with Baghdad burning in flames, children screaming, and blood flowing in the streets, it is questionable how convincing any message would be.