Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

"Self-Responsibility" of Japanese Hostages in Iraq
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

May 31, 2004
Five Japanese citizens, consisting of NGO workers and freelance journalists, were taken hostage by some Muslim group in Fallujah, Iraq. Fortunately, they were subsequently released, but the Japanese government criticized them for entering Iraq despite repeated warnings not to enter the country; they were admonitioned of their failure to think seriously about the meaning of "self-responsibility."

This episode has reminded me of my personal experiences immediately after the outbreak of the Gulf crisis in August 1990.

After the American invasion of Kuwait, Iraq closed its doors to the foreign media except for certain American television networks, hoping that by doing so their views and arguments would better be spread in the world. In the meantime, they took foreign residents in Kuwait as hostages and began transferring them to Baghdad. As the world's attention was focused on Iraq, many foreign journalists contrived to enter the country. I, then residing in Paris as a Japanese correspondent, managed to effortlessly enter Iraq and reach Baghdad.

This is something that can only be said now, but I went into the country as a regular citizen with a tourist, not a journalist, visa obtained from the Iraqi Embassy in France. When I turned up at the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad, the ambassador was rather taken aback: "We're trying to get Japanese people out of the country as quickly as possible, and here you are coming in."

In the Middle Eastern countries, foreign journalists are not allowed to undertake reporting activities without a journalist visa. Under the tense atmosphere at that time, there was a possibility of my being taken into custody by Iraqi authorities. Following the Embassy's advice, I moved to an inconspicuous hotel less suspicious to the ever watchful eyes of the Iraqi authorities and continued my reporting activities. Every morning at a particular hour, I made a telephone call from the hotel to the Embassy reporting my safety. A week later, I judged that further reporting activities would imperil my safety and I turned myself in to the Iraqi authorities. They gave me a good talking-to, but I received a journalist visa in the end and was allowed to continue my stay.

Much has been made of the term "self-responsibility" in the latest Japanese hostage situation. The gist of it is the following: "We shouldn't venture into risky territories where we might find ourselves unable to take responsibility for ourselves. We should be aware of what a nuisance this would cause to so many others."

The Japanese are quite sensitive to the idea of "being a nuisance to others." From the point of view of a journalist, however, I would dare to say that there was a need to assess the risks in my own way and at times to perform tight-rope acts in order to find out actual conditions in Iraq. Things are not so cut-and-dry that we should simply "give up reporting in dangerous circumstances." A similar rationale may apply to the activities of NGOs, which are based on religious or humanitarian principles.

At times, such situations could go against the grain of the policy if the Japanese government, and the government might very well not like what it sees. We need to remember, however, that it is in Japan's interest that the existence of diverse Japanese people in all corners of the globe and the growth of the volume of international news coverage in Japan leads, in the long-term, to 1) the improvement of Japan's image to the outside world 2) a better Japanese understanding of the world. It goes without saying that the utmost restraint and caution is required on the part of these journalists and NGO workers.

My interpretation of "self-responsibility" is "not to blame others for your plight." In this particular case, one shouldn't say that "the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces is at fault for my becoming hostage, "or that "the Japanese government is to blame for the plight of the hostages." Both journalists and NGO workers in question were destined to carry out their tasks under the circumstances.

The writer is Senior Editorial Staff Writer at the Mainichi Newspapers.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2004年 5月 31日









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > "Self-Responsibility" of Japanese Hostages in Iraq