How Japanese Anti-Terror Laws Raise Questions Over Safety Versus Freedom

Here’s an analysis from a Japanese publication questioning the purpose of the bill:

I think it’s important on occasion to keep up to date on what’s going on with governmental decisions outside of the U.S. and Europe. While there have been several significant events these past couple days, (Congressmen shooting, London fire, Poland rejecting EU migration mandate) I find a seemingly more mundane event to be the more interesting to cover. The Japanese government has been voting on amendments to existing anti-terror and anti-terror conspiracy laws that has drastically increased the amount of activities that fall into the illegal bracket. The amount of crimes now considered acts of terror is now 277, and they include some pretty strange or benign activities. On one side are officials who want to secure Japan’s borders and security for the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. On the other side are officials and citizens who are concerned with the ever growing power of the government in citizen’s lives under the pretense of anti-terror. Sound familiar? Let’s take a closer look at what these amendments entail.

The best place to start when analyzing this bill is to look at not just what activities the Japanese government want to outlaw, but also how much power this bill gives them. When you take a closer look, the bill doesn’t just allow the government to take action against the newly defined acts of terror, it allows them to take action against those conspiring to commit them. This is an important distinction, as this moves from a simple punishment of action, to punishment of thought. People already criticize the U.S. and Israel for taking preemptive strikes and action against foreign terrorists who are suspected of planning attacks on their national defense, imagine taking that same logic and using it on your own citizens. Another interesting question is how people being prosecuted under these terror conspiracy laws are treated. Rule of thumb is that terrorists don’t get civil liberties given by a nation’s constitution, allowing the nation to ignore rules like no cruel or unusual punishment, and allowing acts of torture like waterboarding. While this might seem appropriate for the modern idea of a terrorist, just wait until you see what the Japanese government is trying to define as a terrorist act.

Going through the list of 277 illegal acts, most of them make sense, especially when you take into account Japan’s unique situation of being an ethnically homogeneous, hard working, and honor bound society, whose citizens still pay an enduring penalty for the cruel and vicious acts of their ancestors. As someone who supports a strong stance against terror, I welcome preemptive action and instituting order through law. That being said, some of these so called “terrorist actions” are ridiculous and clearly have a different motive. They include:

  • Mushroom picking in conservation forests
  • Avoiding paying the consumption tax
  • Competing in a motor boat race without a licence
  • Using forged stamps
  • Copying music
  • Conducting sit-ins to protest the construction of apartment buildings

Unless you’re a full blown statist, reading this list of “terrorist activities” should make your head spin. In what world does picking mushrooms, or rather, conspiring to pick mushrooms, become an act of terror? When questioned about why these illegal, yet not terror-level activities were put on the list, the government claimed that they were hoping to gain the power to take preemptive strikes against crime organizations in Japan. This confession is understandable, yet incredibly important to unpack.

Organized crime is a massive issue in Japan, so much so that there are whole forms of media where the Yakuza are mentioned, most of the time in an almost reverent light. Organized crime is so commonplace in Japan that it’s almost comical how casually Japanese citizens will mention how a business or a block are controlled by or used as fronts by these crime groups. Its ironic that such an honor bound and civilized culture also has such a seedy underbelly that it has almost no power to stop. These amendments then, are obvious power grabs by the Japanese government to try and fight against these groups and gain back control of their streets. What most citizens realize though, in an almost libertarian way, is that once you give up your liberties to the government there is almost no way you’ll ever get them back. Americans understand this (just look at the NRA on the 2nd amendment) but most European and eastern nations don’t, as the concept of small government or libertarianism doesn’t much exist out of the U.S. This is why I’m surprised that the Japanese people are wise enough to protest against their Minority Report-style government in this case, as this long-term thinking is rarely seen nowadays. I’m always reminded in these instances of the often misquoted, but still relevant Benjamin Franklin quote:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

An interesting, if not unsurprising note is that the justification the Japanese government is using to pass these amendments is that they want to enter the UN’s Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, and that these laws will help them reach that status. Yet again, a nation’s government uses the UN as an excuse to further gain control over its people. Opponents of the bill are questioning whether this bill is even necessary to gain entry to the convention, and they’ve already managed to reduce the number of new offenses from 676 to the aforementioned 277. Unfortunately, the bill was passed, and if it passes further inspection, it will be cemented as law.

As terrible as recent events have been on the world, I’m actually starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The fact that Poland has the bravery to stand up to the EU and refuse to take in Islamic migrants, the fact that every media attack on Trump has failed, the fact that people who were previously locked into their beliefs are now developing an open mind thanks to increasingly ridiculous events like what happened at Evergreen University, these all add up to something. Seeing Japanese citizens question their government grabbing for power with these amendments makes me feel better, even if it turns out to be futile. People all over are wisening up to the danger of large government. Let’s just hope it’s not too little and too late.

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