The last couple of weeks have seen some foreign (i.e. non-American) drama in Iraq, as Italians, Chinese, Russians, and Japanese, amongst others, were kidnapped. The most dramatic footage seen on the news was for one Italian, who was killed by his captors, and that of the Japanese, who were shown blindfolded.
I remember the Americans who were taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran after the fall of the Shah and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. There’s one definitive photograph of that event that appeared in every newspaper and news magazine, a group of people who were blindfolded, hands tied behind their back, dazed with their unknown fate. When they were finally freed after a year, they were heroes back here in the US.
The Japanese hostages were released after a week. I remember feeling relieved for them. But then I read in the newspaper that Japan treated these three people as a national shame and disgrace. The Japanese government wouldn’t pay for their airfare to come home, and rebuked them. “What?” I couldn’t understand it. The article I read in the Mercury News explained the logic of the thinking in Japan and why these freed hostages were being criticized, but I really couldn’t understand it. I thought there were universal human reactions, a common denominator across all cultures: We are happy at births and weddings, sad at funerals. But apparently not all societies will rejoice at the freeing of innocent hostages.
Apparently it has a lot to do with politics. Japan has gone through a lot of political soul-searching in deciding to send military personnel to a war zone, the first time since WWII. In fact the kidnappers’ original demands was for Japan to withdraw its troops, which Japan refused. (Through negotiations, the Japanese hostages were released.) Also, the fact that “civilians were warned not to go to Iraq, for their personal security”, yet these people went there, also upset the government, although these Japanese went to Iraq as aid workers and journalists.