水曜日, 8月 16, 2006


Enshrined in Tokyo's Yasukuni Jinja, it seems, are the souls of Japan's war dead and the hopes of Japan's right wing politicians. Junichiro Koizumi took his last chance to disgrace his office on the 15th of August, by paying his respects to the 'heroic souls' of the shrine - amongst them 14 souls so heroic that they were convicted as class A war criminals. This was his sixth visit to honour Tojo et al, but the first on the anniversary of Japan's defeat in the war those heroic souls and 'Showa martyrs' started. One of Koizumi's own MPs who criticized the visit had his house burned down by an ultra-nationalist, who then tried to commit hara-kiri. Suicide is the one endeavour in which I wish fascists well but it seems our hapless xenophobe couldn't finish the job. China and South Korea quickly protested Koizumi's calculated glorification of the destruction of their countries and enslavement of their people. The usual crowd of the Yomiuri, the Sankei and the right wing weeklies blustered about outside interference in Japan's affairs - nothing to say of course about Japan's really quite extensive interference in Chinese affairs of the first half of the twentieth century. Koizumi's critics have mostly mustered no more than the objection that the Yasukuni visits alienate other Asian countries. This misses the point for two reasons. One is that the viewpoint enshrined at Yasukuni, in particular the Yushukan museum, epitomises the lachrymose falsification of history ('Japan's dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia') by Japan's racist right. This is the same as entrusting the Berlin Holocaust museum to David Irving. Second, Koizumi wants to be seen being attacked by Japan's victims. It appeals both to his own politics and to his base, who must soon choose his successor.

And here, precisely in Yasukuni's status as a poke in the eye to the comfort women and slave labourers, lies the importance of the shrine visits to the LDP. Koizumi publicly proclaimed his intention, like Nakasone, the predecessor he most resmbles, to visit the Shrine on the anniversary of Japan's defeat. He has also sought to 'break' the Liberal Democratic Party so as to make Japan a neoliberal economy and offshore ally of the United States much in the manner of Britain. This project is protected by an aggressive nationalism amenable to the LDP old guard who prosper on the corrupt proceeds of government debt in the construction industry. Koizumi must step down as LDP leader in September - his favoured succesor is Shinzo Abe whose foreign policy stance is not immediately distinguishable from that of Shintaro Ishihara. Koichi Kato, victim of the unfortunate pyrotechnics mentioned above, has said that the Cabinet Secretary 'basically does not accept the Tokyo [war crimes] tribunal.' Abe 'secretly' visited the Yasukuni shrine in April - imparting a nudge, wink, we're all war crimes apologists of the world air to his campaign. If, and when, Abe becomes Prime Minister he will not face an election for at least three years. Furthermore since the Democratic Party of Japan shares most of its polcies with part of the LDP, Abe will arleady have won the election anyway. DPJ Members of Parliament themselves visit Yasukuni, and the best that a DPJ spokesman could do was to criticise Koizumi's hesitation about choosing a day for his pilgrimage. In the last election the DPJ were roundly trounced - perhaps they ought to learn the lesson that voters don't respect people without the guts to take their own side in an argument.

Is there hope? The Asahi vox populi pieces displayed a disturbing complacency. But there were several brave demonstrations around the country including one in Tokyo on Sunday the 14th. To stop the visits to honour war criminals, however, requires a large and vibrant movement against Japan's current participation in war crimes. That, we still await.

火曜日, 8月 15, 2006

A Festival of Resistance

Every August artists and art lovers come to the Edinburgh festival. This year they were treated to an even more valuable fringe event, as demonstrators from all over Scotland protested the Israeli destruction of Lebanon.
The police, as is their wont, profusely photographed the demonstration to ignore accurately its size. The police on the demonstration itself gave a head count of 5000. Their estimate of 3000 demonstrators in The Scotland on Sunday should be taken as the Lothian and Borders' Police entry to this year's comedy awards. Since the demonstration stretched from the top of Leith Walk to the Mound at one point, a reality based estimate would be closer to 10000 people. And what people they were. They included trade unionists and students, Muslims and non-Muslims, Jews and Gentiles, the elegant and the Glaswegian. A sure sign of a large and diverse demonstration is when one meets a casual acquaintance from an entirely seperate context - as I did while waiting at the Meadows for the march to move off.

After chatting with a prospective landlady (my acquaintances are very casual) I joined the moving protest through the University district. The demonstration made its way to the US consulate on Regent Terrace. There we sat down and those at the head of the demonstration laid children's shoes in front of the consulate, to represent the hundreds of Lebanese children killed by US made bombs dropped from US made planes by Israeli pilots. We then walked around the terrace onto Princes Street - producing the exhiliration that comes from a mass of political people dominating a shopping thoroughfare.

Having reclaimed Princes Street, we turned our attention to The Mound, where the rally was to begin. The platform in front of the assembly rooms was mounted by speakers such as Aamer Anwar, Muhammad Sarwar MP, Barry Levine of Scottish Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Salma Yaqub of Respect. The latter's speech summed up the meaning of the march, referring to the transatlantic terror stramash in all the papers;
'We're here to protest against real terrorist bombing - that in the skies above Lebanon.'
The rally ended with a resounding call to converge on the Labour Party conference in Manchester on the 23rd of September. As I write, the ceasefire in Lebanon appears to be holding, a month overdue. Even more overdue is the consignment of Tony Blair, aider and abetter of Israel's month of madness, to the dustbin of political history.