Escape from Freedom in the Information Age: Insecure Society Generated by Globalization and the Sacrificed Human Rights of Minorities

Hideaki Uemura (Shimin Gaikou Centre / Keisen University)

The 9/11 incident accelerated the adoption of anti-terrorist measures all over the world and by these measures many governments strengthened their crackdown on suspected or suspicious terrorists, often defined to include foreign workers, foreign residents, asylum-seekers and refugees. At the same time, government-led volunteer organizations for neighborhood watch, in cooperation with police and other public safety bodies, have rapidly developed with ‘good citizens' to be volunteer as their civic duty.

While attacking Afghanistan and Iraq under the guise of freedom and justice, the US government internally established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 1 in March of 2003, integrating 22 organizations and related sections. Since its establishment the DHS has often investigated and collected information about Arab-American citizens, Muslims, and workers and refugees from Islamic countries, and has begun deportation crackdowns on illegal foreign workers.

Simultaneously, the DHS functioned as a strong central authority proposing and implementing programs to maintain security in the United States. In December of 2003, it requested foreign governments to permit any armed air marshals on board every plane bound for US cities 2. In January of 2004, in accordance with the DHS program, the US government started a new immigration system in which foreign visitors from most countries were photographed and fingerprinted, despite protests of other governments. In 2003 some US media reported that the DHS sent a classified notice to police to screen participants in anti-government demonstrations as possible supporters of terrorism.

Cooperation and participation of ‘good citizens' is critical for the government's anti-terrorist measures to function. Soon after the establishment of the DHS, the Citizen Corps 3 , a government-led volunteer organization (proposed in President Bush's' State of the Union Message in 2002) was established with the intent to expose suspected terrorists through neighborhood surveillance.

An overarching organization named Freedom Corps was also formed consisting of the new Citizen Corps and the old Peace Corps 4. After 9/11 Peace Corps volunteers began to be sent in great numbers to Islamic countries to teach illustrious US values such as democracy, freedom and affluence to the poor and ‘uncivilized' peoples. By extension this civilizing process was intended to protect US homeland security.

New measures for ‘Reviving Japan as the most secure society in the world'

In Japan, as well as dispatching Self-Defense Forces' troops to Iraq, the Japanese government implemented new security measures under the campaign slogan “Revive Japan as the most secure society in the world”. In June of 2003, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party set up a Committee on Reinforcement of Security. The Committee discussed security issues such as: how to deal with foreign criminals and illegal immigrants including North Korean operatives, members of Chinese crime organizations and terrorists from Islamic countries.

The deliberations of the Committee exercised great influence on the “Program of Action for Building a Strong Society against Crimes”5 adopted by the Cabinet in December of 2003. In the Program the main target groups were foreign criminals and juvenile delinquents. Against these criminals, the following three policies were promoted.

1) Security shall be defended by citizens themselves; therefore active cooperation between citizens and the police shall be promoted and developed.

2) In order to build social surroundings to prevent crime, traditional communities shall be revived and crackdowns shall be as drastically implemented, following the model of New York crime crackdowns under the Giuliani Administration 6.

3) Cooperation among relevant government organizations such as the Self-Defense Forces, the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Agency and the Immigration Office shall be reinforced and harsher punishments shall be introduced into the legal system.

There is a strong resemblance between the ideology behind DHS and Citizen Corps in the United States and the policies stipulated in the Program of Action for Building a Strong Society against Crimes in Japan.

As a further example, the Tokyo metropolitan government headed by Governor Shintaro Ishihara, a racist and neo-conservative politician, with the Ministry of Justice, the Tokyo Immigration Office and the Metropolitan Police Department adopted in October 2003 a “Joint Declaration on Reinforcement of Counter-measures against Illegal Foreigners in Tokyo 7. In the following month, a vice-governor of Tokyo, an ex-police officer, met with representatives of existing civil crime prevention associations in Tokyo. In his speech to this meeting he stated that the metropolitan government would like to set up 2,000 vigilante groups in the city in the future. This idea appears to be drawn from the 2002 US State of the Union Message. In the past three years the same kind of security developments occurred in the United States, Japan, and in Britain 8, where increased authority to investigate and detain suspected terrorists and suspected terrorist-supporters was bestowed on the police after 9/11.

In reference to these changes, liberal commentators and critics argue that anti-terrorist measures after the 9.11 incident generated insecure societies even in advanced countries. I agree in part, but suggest there are deeper insights that can be made into these phenomena through considering the acceleration of globalization in the late 1990s.

What happened to advanced countries in the late 1990s

In the novel “1984” George Orwell cynically described a Stalinist regime ruled by a handful of bureaucrats and politicians that had built a bureaucratic society in the name of populism. In the novel, the Department of ‘Peace' promotes military build-up, plans out military operations and wages war against other countries. The Department of ‘Freedom' watches citizens, checks their daily life and carries out inspections. In the world of ‘1984', all political slogans have opposite meanings to the ones advertised enabling a handful of bureaucrats and politicians to maintain their special interests.

When we examine incidents in the late 1990s, the battle of Seattle in 1999 serves as a good example. In December of that year in Seattle the US government chaired the third Ministerial Conference of World Trade Organization (WTO). About 100,000 citizens, including members of NGOs and trade unions who came to protest against the WTO-led globalization policies, encircled the conference building. During the Conference, a section of the march turned into a mob and clashed with US riot police. As a result the conference failed to adopt an agreement on policies. It is worth noting the active participation of AFL-CIO, the biggest trade union in the United States in the civil demonstration in Seattle. The AFL-CIO insisted that the WTO-led globalization policies had caused global environmental deterioration and had greatly damaged workers' rights and working conditions in the United States. Just four years later, in January of 2004, at the Davos Conference of World Economic Forum (WEF) (another international organization to promote globalization policies at the initiative of the US government) representatives of the International Labor Organization (ILO) announced that the number of jobless people in 2003 reached 185,900,000 globally, hitting a new world record. There is a close connection between these two events and the rising sense of global insecurity.

From this viewpoint, I would like to examine the situation in Japan in the late 1990s.

Let us look at the interesting statistics recently published by some ministries and government agencies. Firstly, in 2002 crimes numbered around 2,850,000 hitting a new high since the end of WWII (in contrast with about 1,740,000 in 1991). Serious crimes such as murder, rape, arson and robbery doubled in the past ten years, from 6,000 in 1992 to 12,000 in 2001. The numbers of the unemployed also increased in this time: from 1,520,000 in January of 1993 to 3,570,000 in the same month of 2003. Due to gender-unbalance in Japanese society, among the 3,570,000, the number of male workers who were out of a job was 2,130,000. Other data clearly shows a growing insecurity in Japanese society. 1999 was the first time since the end of WWII that suicides exceeded 33,000, a jump of ten thousand since 1996 9. A large section of the 10,000 increase in suicides were males in their 50s. I suggest that they are the victims of globalization. In addition, although the number of missing people is stable at 101,000 or thereabouts in 1993-2002, the number of missing adults reached 78,000 in 2002, compared with 60,000 in 1996.

These numbers indicate that Japanese society has been quickly and certainly changing into an insecure society mainly and unmistakably because of the negative impact of which has caused an aggravation of societal competition and a collapse of the social safety net throughout Japan.

Patriotism under globalization and a society with an illusory fear of ‘scapegoats'

While an insecure society has emerged in Japan, the government's response has been to organize irrelevant campaigns and ignore underlying causes. Firstly, new spiritualist policies including concepts of patriotism, self-responsibility and volunteerism have been actively introduced into Japanese society, particularly into the education system by government and neo-conservative groups. One sign of this was Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to a shrine on January 1 st of 2004. Koizumi visited a Yasukuni shrine, which enshrined the “fallen” in wars, including Japanese war criminals. Although the Chinese and Korean governments quickly condemned this visit, the Japanese media failed to effectively criticize it.

The visit of Prime Minister to Yasukuni is closely and spiritually connected with promoting patriotism and militarism in Japan. In the years before this visit a neo-conservative group, the Association for Publishing a New Textbook on Japanese History, issued a new and reactionary textbook, “History of the Japanese Nation” (1999). The group issued two more textbooks, “Morality of the Japanese Nation” and “Education of the Japanese Nation” in 2000 and 2001 respectively. In parallel the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (restructured in 2001 by the Koizumi administration) promoted the teaching of patriotism as an important educational goal. In a report of the Central Committee on Education in 2002, the government stated that its aim was to develop “human resources” equipped with responsibility, morality, volunteer spirit, patriotism and Japanese identity.

A revision of the existing Fundamental Law of Education to promote these values in the education system was promulgated. Arguably, the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq fulfilled these projected values as good Japanese in international society. Furthermore, the government also has a plan to revise the existing Labor Standards Law, introducing the principle of competition and “responsibility for oneself” to the labor market and the unemployed community.

The government and politicians of the ruling parties have repeatedly use foreign criminals, terrorists and illegal foreign workers as scapegoats, blaming these groups as the cause of an insecure society in Japan 10. This propaganda has spread rapidly throughout Japan through information technology such as the Internet and satellite TV news. From the end of 2003 the Asahi newspaper started running a feature on crimes in Japan, using information provided by the police, and a special feature of New Year's Day of 2004 referred to recent increases in crime committed by foreign criminals.

The “Program of Action for Building a Strong Society against Crimes”; the “Joint Declaration on Reinforcement of Counter-measures against Illegal Foreigners in Tokyo” and the large-scale crackdowns by the police in the past few years has increased an unjustified fear of and discriminatory feelings toward foreigners and “others” such as ethnic minorities, and homeless peoples. Japanese mass media often and uncritically carry biased articles that allege that foreign workers, foreign students, and in particular illegal workers and students are potential criminals and have actually committed serious crimes. By contrast, they are largely silent on the matter of the unjust patriotic programs that the Japanese government has implemented over the past several years.

Human rights violations and illusory security by force

In April of 2000, Ishihara, the Governor of the Tokyo metropolitan government, notoriously stated that if illegal foreigners caused unrest in Tokyo the Self-Defense Forces troops should suppress them by force of arms. In November of 2003 he also stated that if terrorists attacked the Self-Defense Forces' troops in Iraq, the troops (who were in fact supposed to be in Iraq for non-military reconstruction purposes) should “wipe them out completely”. The ideas expressed in his remarks reflect a society where the illusory fear of “others” is widespread. It has become much easier to stir xenophobia and racism and to violate the human rights of foreigners, minorities, indigenous peoples, and homeless people, because the majority of citizens believe that few people in these groups share the same values of responsibility, morality, and patriotism of “good Japanese citizen”. This belief, coupled with the fear that such groups represent security threats, causes “good Japanese citizens” to accept the government's human rights violations.

In the deliberations of UN human rights bodies the anti-terrorist measures of the DHS and the US government have been often criticized for eroding human rights. However, the US government has ignored such criticism, insisting it has been fighting for freedom, justice and security for US society. Similarly, the security policies implemented by the Japanese government have also been accused of violations of human rights by human rights groups including the Bar Association of Japan, the Japan Civil Liberties Union and other lawyers' groups.

An important response to the developments discussed here is to develop ‘democracy' and ‘justice' fairly in each society through the implementation of international human rights law, international agreements on environmental protection and international labor standards. That is, we need to involve ourselves in a new social movement against a US neo-conservative led globalization. To this end, I also wish to emphasize the significant role of the media. In this information age many people in majority groups cannot obtain well-balanced news in order to understand where they stand vis-à-vis “others”. As we saw in US society after 9/11 mass media hysteria obscured the real causes of societal insecurity. Consequently, many people fail to recognize that they live in a dangerous society where apparently contradictory concepts coexist: globalization and patriotism, aggressive war and international cooperation, freedom and neighborhood watch. In order to fight against the real causes of insecurity all media (mass, small and alternative) must ensure they operate independently from any authority, and citizens need actively communicate with each other across nation state borders through many tools of communication, both old and new.

Although we know it is a difficult time for everyone and that there is difficult work ahead, we must fight, not only against a revival a 1930's world, but also to build a new global democracy and a secure society in which all groups with different cultures, traditions and histories can live together.


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  1. See the following website of the DHS, .
  2. According to news of May 8, 2004, Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian government concluded an agreement with the U.S. government to allocate six armed air marshals at the maximum on every flight for US cities.
  3. See the following website of Citizen Corps, . The Citizen Corps have some programs including Neighborhood Watch Program (NWP) and Volunteers in Police Services (VIPS).
  4. Peace Corps were established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.
  5. See the following website of the Cabinet, (in Japanese).
  6. Rudolph Giuliani, ex-Mayor of New York at that time of the 9/11 incident. He was chosen as the Person of the Year 2001 by TIME Magazine.
  7. See the following website of Tokyo Metropolitan Government, (in Japanese).
  8. In Britain, new laws including Terrorism Act of 2000, Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act of 2001, and Criminal Justice Act of 2003 were passed one after another, and many of them are questioned under international human rights standards.
  9. The National Police Agency announced on July 22, 2004 that the number of suicides in 2003 was 34,427 and it was the worst record.
  10. See “Asia/Pacific Perspectives” Vol.2, No.3, Jiji-gahou, July 2004. The feature's title of this semi-governmental magazine is “Safety First – Japan aims to keep its reputation as a safe country.”



About the Author: Uemura Hideaki is a Professor at Keisen University in Japan, and founder of the Shimin Gaikou Centre (Citizen's Centre for Diplomacy) See


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