Archive | September 2012

Excuse me, al-Qaida has “national what”?

Rejoinder to Liah Greenfield –

Liah Greenfield, a devoted scholar of nationalism, seems to be pleading for relevance with her claims that a competition for so-called “national dignity” drove the 9/11 attacks. She might consider doing a quick background check on her subjects before attempting to exonerate them. The murderers of 9/11 were mainly Saudi, but there were also  EgyptiansUnited Arab Emirati and a Lebanese. They gathered in Afghanistan where they trained and fought under inspiration from Egyptians Ayman al-Zawahiri and Saeed Qutb, and funding from billionaire Saudi Osama bin Laden. I don’t know which nation Liah Greenfield thinks this band of international criminals is supposed to be representing, but it certainly isn’t one known to me.

The one nation they were fighting for when they bombed the Australian tourists in Bali in 2002 and killed the great U.N diplomat Sergio Viera de Mello in 2003 was Indonesia. Why? Because the Jemaah Islamiyah claimed East Timor to be a republic of muslim land, belonging to Indonesia. So when the Australia government and Sergio Viera de Mello helped to liberate East Timor (who are predominantly Christian), they were depriving the Indonesians of a free reign to commit genocide in their muslim land. I wonder if Greenfield thinks that this amounts to an oppression of the “national dignity” of the Jemaah Islamiyah and their al-Qaida sponsors?

It is not “nation”, but “empire” that is the driving force here. Charlatans like Michael Moore, like to call them the “resistance” and brand them with honours like the “minutemen” of our era. But, al-Qaida and its defenders are very much pro-empire. They yearn for the revival and expansion of the Islamic Caliphate, and the replacement of apparently sinful human-based laws with Sha’ria. Using the term “national dignity” to describe this is wrong by precisely two words. It is not “national”, and there is absolutely no “dignity” to be found in it. If Greenfield can’t see this with her apparently “more sober perspective” of 9/11, then clearly she has not been blessed sufficiently with the benefit of hindsight.

What Are You Looking At, Chump? – Intra-gaijin relations.

Click here for the article in Metropolis

“What are you looking at, chump?” is not something I’ve ever said, but something I’ve inadvertently conveyed on occasions when on the end of some unwarranted scowling. In recent memory, I’ve only had to call upon the look when confronted by menacing troublemakers on the train, and in the tax office, when a foreigner could apparently do nothing else but gawk at me for the whole time we were waiting. Sure, we were the only foreigners there, and I probably stood out a little, but there is a line, and he had crossed it. Then I started to ponder: Is there actually a “line?” What is the social etiquette amongst foreigners?

If I know the Japanese expat community at all, everyone will have their own burning views on this. I’m envisaging visceral retorts from the nihilistic breeding ground of internet trolling known as Gaijinpot. If you’ve had occasion to visit the site’s forums you’ll have had backroom access into the world of intra-gaijin squabbling, where all manner of dick measuring goes on. “I’ve been in Japan longer than you. You don’t know squat,” is the kind of thing we’re talking about. I suppose it’s to be expected when people feel able to unleash their innermost rage from behind the safety of their computer screen. In fact, far from decrying Gaijinpot (a salient source of info on practical matters), by broadcasting the gripes of foreigners, the forums are actually illuminating. They reveal a competitiveness and egotism among foreigners. In a country with a foreign population of 1.2 percent, you couldn’t blame a foreigner for feeling as though he/she is privy to arcane cultural knowledge on Japan. Living here is the closest many people get to feeling like a celebrity. It just has the unfortunate side effect of making some foreigners rather inhospitable to others—particularly online.

In real life, such competitiveness means that even a passing nod or a smile can cross the line. The more competitive you are, the more likely you are to recoil at the prospect of interaction with a foreign stranger. One simply cannot give the impression of being anything other than resolutely indifferent to the sight of another foreigner, no matter how predisposed one might be to size them up.

Of course, most of us are not nearly as intractable as this. Take for instance those who accept the futility of attempting assimilation and play up to their gaijin status by acting outside the rules and expectations of Japanese society. In the right mood, these guys will cast off the façade and offer a passing nod or a smile, but might feel a tug of guilt for doing so, since acknowledging a stranger on the grounds they are a foreigner suddenly feels rather cliquish. The result of which is a comical display of terribly awkward facial twitching.

This manner of fidgeting occurs not so much on the expat-filled streets of Roppongi or Shibuya/Harajuku, but crops up at moments when one least expects to encounter another foreigner—in a conbini, in an elevator, etc. Nonetheless, foreigners like observing other foreigners. To chance upon a foreigner who has mastered the language, or likewise, one who looks lost, affirms one’s own performance in Japanese society. It’s no terrible thing to identify with those in similar circumstances as your own.

For me, a chance meeting is reminiscent of hikes in the English—or Japanese for that matter—countryside, where encounters with passing strangers are few and far between. The only thing people have in common is being in the same place at the same time, yet most are keen to shoot off a smile, or a “Hello/konnichiwa.” Indeed, it is even customary. Needless to say, the megalopolis is remarkably different. A face-full of sweaty armpits on a sardine-packed train or a lung-full of exhaust on a gridlocked street is enough to squeeze the cordiality out of anyone. But, even so, the sight of a foreigner wandering around and enjoying Tokyo’s enigmatic concrete jungle compels me to tip the hat to them in much the same way as I would to nature-goers during a country ramble.

I won’t stare a hole through your face, but I have no scruples about a gentle nod when our eyes meet. Just as I’d offer a pleasantry to any Japanese passerby who maintained eye contact—so long as it wasn’t that “get out of my country, you dirty foreigner” sort of eye contact. My courteousness stops at nobody except the trolls.