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

Striking the Right Balance between Security and Freedom
WATANABE Yasushi / Professor, Keio University

May 24, 2013
A month has passed since the Boston Marathon Terrorist Bombings. I was particularly distressed by the misfortune that befell this town so full of memories of my days there as a student. At the same time, I saw signs of hope amid the tragedy.

I was struck by the speed with which the investigative analysis led to the identification of the suspects, the precision of the command structure in closing down parts of the city and, above all, the understanding and cooperation shown by the families, schools, churches, hospitals, stores and businesses toward the shutting down of certain urban functions. The Mayor of Boston and the Governor of Massachusetts lost no time in launching a fund-raising campaign for the victims, collecting nearly 30 million dollars to date. Citizens volunteered one after another to give blood and clean up the mess.

In his memorial speech, President Obama declared his dauntless stance: “If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, --- it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston.” If it had happened in Japan, a self-restraint mode might have prevailed in the nation.

It is important that the Obama Administration decided to treat this case as an ordinary criminal case and try the suspect in the open federal court system in accordance with the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Political restraint was apparently exercised against the temptation to subject the suspect to rigorous interrogation in a camp for enemy combatants and conduct the trial in a secret military tribunal. When the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) released the photographs of the two suspects, it refrained from making any reference to their ethnicity or religion, lest such reference should incite hatred against certain groups of people.

At the same time, the incident brought into sharp relief the dilemmas within the American society.
For example, when the suspect became reluctant to respond to the interrogation after he was informed of the Miranda rights (the right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning), the Conservatives insisted that he should be deprived of such rights. However, these are rights firmly established based on the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, the Conservatives adamantly oppose gun control, claiming that it violates the right guaranteed by the Constitution. One can hardly find these positions to be ideologically consistent. Nor is it easy for ordinary people with common sense to understand why the Conservatives, who vaunt their intolerance to terrorism, are so tolerant to gun possession (though they apparently have their own rationale).

Since the simultaneous terrorist bombings in London in 2005, “home-grown terrorism” has come to be a focus of vigilance as a new form of terrorism. According to the CRS (Congressional Research Service), there have been 42 cases of such terrorism, including attempted terrorism, in the United States since 2009. The shocking tragedy in Boston will propel the authorities to step up intelligence-gathering and surveillance.

President Obama said in his inaugural address for his first term, “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” and “we will not give them (those ideals) up for expedience's sake.” The inherent tension between security and citizens’ freedom is likely to surface further in the future.

Since the simultaneous terrorist attacks in 2001, there have been increased incidences of hate crimes against people of Arab descent and Muslims. Among these people, no small number has been subjected to police questioning or wiretapping, breeding mistrust and grievances on their part.

It will take time to get to the bottom of the bombing attacks. In the meantime, Islam phobia may be exacerbated. It is often said that if you treat someone with hostility, he or she will become your real enemy. To what extent does the American society have the resilience to break such a vicious cycle? Therein lies the true test of the supreme ideal of the United States, “Unity in Diversity.”

It is a test not just for the United States today, when people, goods, money and information travel so easily across national boundaries. There may be some in positions of power who misguidedly utter words inciting hatred of “others” and devoid of human warmth to show off their assertive vigor. Japan is not immune to such follies.

Yasushi Watanabe is Professor at Keio University. This article originally appeared in the May 13, 2013 of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and was partially revised by the writer.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渡辺 靖 / 慶應義塾大学教授

2013年 5月 24日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Striking the Right Balance between Security and Freedom