The Islamic State – a radical Islamist group currently operating in Iraq and Syria released yet another atrocious video a week ago, this time showing the beheading of a Japanese hostage after demands for a $ 200million ransom in exchange for his life were not met by the Japanese government. While executions have been occurring at a very alarming rate in recent months, the most recent beheadings in particular give important insights into both, the future development of ISIS, as well as the political situation in Japan.
Japan and Foreign Politics
Ever since the end of the Second World War, Japan has adopted a pacifist stance in foreign politics as its 1947 constitution requires it to mobilise troops solely for defensive purposes. However, the country’s growing significance as a global economic power has been seen as a reason for a higher involvement in foreign politics as well. Japan has been helping global Peace-Keeping missions in recent years, as well as supporting various initiatives by the UN. However, the rise of the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who won snap elections in December, has decided to shift Japan’s foreign policy on the topic. During a trip in the Middle East last month, the Prime Minister announced intentions to give $ 200 million in non-military aid to support the fight against IS. Mr Abe’s government has cited long-term aims to become more independent and further improve its relationship with the US.
Both the swiftness, as well as the brutality of the response from IS are cause for great global concern. The terrorist group released a video demanding the same amount which Mr Abe offered, but in ransom, for Kenji Goto just a couple of days after the Prime Minister’s announcement. More importantly, IS leaders did not hesitate to threaten (and ultimately act upon their threats) a country that is not currently actively fighting them. The message that IS sent to Japan (as well as the rest of the world) is even more significant considering that the Asian country has not been a victim of any terrorist activity since 1995 (and the perpetrators of this attack were home-grown). By executing Mr. Goto, IS has also directly threatened Japan and promised further terrorist attacks, thus adding even more fuel to the conflict.
ISIS: Japan’s New Biggest Fear
It seems that the message that the terrorist organization sent is achieving its desired effect to divide and frighten the Japanese public. On the one hand, Mr. Abe’s government is using this incident to underline the need for an increased militarization of Japan. Japan’s National Diet (the governmental structure that passes laws in the country) is expected to review at least 10 defense bills. The public has expressed great concern over the government’s handling of the situation, with many disagreeing with the Prime Minister’s plans as they fear terrorist attacks. The Shukan Post has provided evidence that Mr. Abe’s government was aware that Japanese hostages were captured by the IS. It was claimed that the Prime Minister’s comments were expected to evoke such a harsh response from the IS, giving a pretext for Mr Abe to push his pro-militarization agenda.
This situation shows just how powerful and dangerous the Islamic State is as it is terrorizing the people of Japan and spreading uncertainty within the country with such ease. While is unknown is what direction the Japanese government will take in response to the dreadful killings of two of its nationals, the rest of the world should certainly realize how big of a threat the Islamic State currently is.