Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2015.03.25

At Noon in Tunisia

JBpress on March 20, 2015

There they go again. This time the target was the national museum in Tunis. IS (the Islamic State) has (arguably) claimed responsibility for the attack. At least 23 people were killed, including three innocent Japanese tourists. Three other Japanese were injured. The silent majority of Japanese were reminded once again that there is no safe haven for their fellow citizens who go abroad.

"We will never tolerate terrorism and firmly denounce it," Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo. He also said that Japan "will make all-out efforts in the battle against terrorism in cooperation with the international community." This time, however, nobody criticized Abe for provoking terrorists as happened in the IS hostage taking incident this January.

The alleged IS terror attack, which took place around noon in Tunisia on March 18, shocked many Middle East hands both in Japan and abroad. This was because Tunis has been considered the only success story of the 'Arab Spring.' Although slow and gradual, Tunisia has been exercising democracy, free elections and basic human rights in a way that the West can appreciate.

Other Arab republics, however, are not as fortunate as Tunis. Ironically, the Arab Spring brought Egypt, for example, after two years of abortive democratic experimentation, back to military rule again. Similar popular movements led Syria, Libya and Yemen to civil wars and eventually destroyed governance in those Arab republics.

Paradoxically, Arab monarchies seem to have survived the Arab Spring, at least so far. They kept silent and never ventured upon political reforms. GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states even sent troops to Bahrain to prevent civil unrest in the small Arab island kingdom. Faced with a potential threat from Iran, the GCC cannot even try to democratize their century-old governing systems.

Naturally, Tunisia became the best student in the school of democratization in the Arab world. Such remarkable success in Tunis, however, has a dark side as well as thousands of young Tunisians go abroad as Jihadists, for instance. Reportedly, there are 3,000 Tunisians fighting with IS in Syria and Iraq, which is the biggest foreign cohort in the notorious terrorist organization.

This is the irony (or cost) of democratization in the contemporary Arab world. Under traditional harsh dictatorial rule, religious extremist movements had been effectively suppressed and ultimately contained. Potential terrorists were either in jails or outside the country and had never been an existential threat to the authoritarian regimes.

In the so-called Arab Spring, however, those future terror activists were released from jails and started enjoying more freedom of speech and movement in newly-created democratic civil societies. They reached out to the unemployed--and therefore frustrated and even desperate young future warriors--and recruited and trained them as Jihadists in Syria or elsewhere.

Those Jihadists triggered two significant phenomena. One was to destabilize and doom the embryonic stage of the democratic experiments and the other to eventually destroy the systems of governance in those Arab countries. In the case of Tunisia, the attack on such a high-profile tourist destination could be a serious blow to the Tunisian economy, which is largely dependent on tourism.

In Japan, March 20, two days after the Tunis museum attack, marked the twentieth anniversary of the deadly sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo underground network. The tragic incident resulted in thirteen deaths and reportedly over 5,000 injuries. This was the latest terror attack inside Japan that ordinary Japanese citizens can remember.

The terrible crime was committed by AUM Shinrikyo. The cult emerged in 1987 and its founder Shoko Asahara created his religion incorporating the teachings of Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism. He eventually developed doomsday prophecies about the future of Japan. With this in mind, AUM Shinrikyo was organized to ultimately replace the Japanese government.

Although the perpetrators and locations are different, the nature of the tragedies in Tunis this year and in Tokyo 20 years ago is essentially the same. They disregard the hopes and rights of others and are willing to kill humans in the name of religion. If this could happen in Tunis, it could also happen in Tokyo again.

The incident in Tunisia is the third in a series of brutal terrorist attacks against Japanese nationals since January 2013. This is also the third wake-up call reminding the silent majority of Japanese of the danger of terror attacks, whether conducted in the name of Islam or AUM. Waste no time. The Japanese must wake up and see the unpleasant reality in the world.