Saturday, June 19, 2010


Interesting article in today's New York Times about an attitude among certain members of the Japanese public that ought to seem familiar to Americans:

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- "The Cove," an Oscar-winning documentary about dolphin hunting in Japan, would seem to be a natural fit for movie theaters here, but so far the distributor has yet to find a single one that will screen the film.

And if Shuhei Nishimura and his compatriots on Japan's nationalist fringe have their way, none ever will.

... activists' noisy rallies, online slanders, intimidating phone calls and veiled threats of violence are frightening theaters into canceling showings of "The Cove" ...

It is a stark example as well of how public debate on topics deemed delicate here can be easily muffled by a small minority, the most vocal of whom are the country's estimated 10,000 rightists....

Other areas that have been effectively made taboo by the right wing include Japan's royal family, rights for ethnic minorities, Tokyo's occupation of parts of Asia in the last century, the nation's role in World War II and organized crime groups, many of which have close links with the far right....

America's noisy right-wingers aren't shutting down movies, or, as the article goes on to note, doing anything like this:

In 2006, a rightist burned down the house of a member of Parliament after he criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine [which honors some Japanese war criminals others among other World War II dead]. The same year, a right-wing group hurled a firebomb at the offices of The Nikkei, a leading daily newspaper, after it published reports on the emperor's views of the shrine.

But it's a difference of degree only. The American version of this is electoral rather than physical intimidation. Our angry rightists also don't understand that they're a minority of the country, or simply don't care, and they also think they have a monopoly on patriotism that entitles them to get their way all the time.

The gun lobby is a classic example of this. Just as Japan's rightists think restrictions on dolphin hunting are an affront to Japan's deep roots as a fishing culture (even though few Japanese these days even eat dolphin), the gun fetishists believe that we're still a nation of musket-wielding yeoman farmers who substitute for a nonexistent standing army, and therefore people on the terrorist watch list should still be able to buy guns. Or something like that. And woe betide the politician who crosses them.

The teabaggers certainly think they own the patent on Americanism, just as the Japanese rightists think they own Japanese patriotism. Last summer's town-hall mobs engaged in Japanese-style intimidation, and, while it's not at all clear that the playacting patriots of the tea party movement would ever actually act on their threats, they certainly want us to believe that they'll resort to "Second Amendment remedies" if they don't get their way (hello, Sharron Angle).

And we've certainly seen violent, lethal intimidation from opponents of abortion in this country -- with the result that the vast majority of the country simply doesn't have abortion services. Nonviolent abortion opponents tut-tut and theatrically distance themselves every time an anti-abortion terrorist kills a doctor, but the terrorism really does get the job done.

When this happens, in Japan or America, it's because what we think is an agreed-upon notion of patriotism really ian't universal. The intimidators are traitors to the notion of nonviolent self-governance. Not only aren't they the biggest patriots, they're not patriots at all, because both nations idealize peaceful self-rule.

I'm not sure where that leaves us. I do think we'll see a significant uptick of violence if the economy doesn't improve and the teabaggers don't fully triumph in November.

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