Media Foreign Affairs and National Security 2015.01.15
A long dreaded incident finally took place in Paris. Two radical Islamist brothers, both born in France, raided a French satirical weekly magazine's head office and shot a dozen people, including cartoonists, writers and police officers, to death. The sympathy of the silent majority of Japanese echoes that of their French counterparts but they can learn more from the very European socio-political transformation that sparked this tragedy.
Their hearts are with the family and friends of the victims as well as all the other journalists who believe in the freedom of speech and expression. Western media have been covering this tragedy all day long as an unforgivable breach of basic human rights. Western and Japanese political leaders unanimously expressed the strongest condemnation of this vicious act of terrorism.
This is so right and natural that I have no objection to the above. No theological teachings can justify this barbaric murder of journalists and cartoonists in Paris just exercising their freedom of expression. Having said that, I have to confess that I still have some concerns. The following are some of the points that I find somehow unnatural and feel uneasy about.
The first is the quality of satire in the magazine. Make no mistake, its cartoonists should have full freedom of speech. There is no doubt about it. I neither propose a change in the content of the cartoons nor claim that they should not publish the pictures. However, I was amazed at the ignorance and arrogance those satirical cartoonists showed vis-a-vis Islam.
In particular, some of the cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad are, in the eyes of neutral third parties like myself, nothing but vulgar pieces of bad taste. They are not always fully justified and by no means represent the French "esprit" that the silent majority of French should be proud of.
The freedom of satirical cartoonists is just the freedom of expression. This does not give them the right to demand that Muslims accept the same tolerance for satire as ordinary French Christians have. Although there should be freedom of expression, even for a B-grade Hollywood film making fun of North Korea or third class French satire, I still feel that there is something strange about this.
There is another odd element: the attitude of political leaders in Islamic nations, and especially those in the Middle East. To the best of my knowledge, many of them have not said much about the incident in Paris. They do not seem to be willing to openly condemn the brutal act of terrorism in front of TV cameras.
Are they sympathetic with the perpetrators because they are not happy with the satirical cartoons? I hope not. But if that is not the case, why do they seem to be so hesitant and remain silent? This is also something that I feel is very strange. However, since the issue is not confined to the protection of freedom of speech, this is not the end of the story.
The third and final question is about Europe itself. The tragedy in Paris may symbolize a changing socio-political landscape in European societies where we witness a comeback of racial discrimination and general political bipolarization with radicalized Islamic communities and the rise of Europe's far-right nationalist movements.
Western pundits talk about poverty as a main reason for Islamic radicalism in Europe. It is true that destitution prevents us from being considerate to others and promotes religious extremism. This, however, is just one side of the coin. What pundits ignore is the fact that persistent local discrimination is the real reason for the poverty of the immigrant communities in France.
In this regard, Europe and Japan are quite similar to each other. In the past both created healthy civil societies, but maturing economies led to a decrease in birth rate and a labor force shortage. In the case of Europe, immigrants proved a successful short term solution. However, this eventually became a serious political time bomb in their post-industrial societies.
Thus, the final question is about Japan. Japan's birth rate is far below France's. Should Tokyo start accepting a massive number of immigrants to solve the labor shortage issue and continue economic growth? Or should we avoid the failure of European nations? We may not receive as many Islamic immigrants as Europe, but assimilation is still by no means an easy process.
Should we learn these lessons from Europe? Time is running out for Japan to make a tough decision on this matter.