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Henoko and Ferguson

Ishiba Stare

LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba

SNA (Tokyo) – The various dramas occurring today near Henoko beach, Okinawa, and the city of Ferguson, Missouri, undoubtedly have many points of difference, but it is worth reflecting briefly on some issues that unite these two cases.

In Henoko, of course, what is ostensibly going on is that a US Marine air base is being built—a base authorized by the Japanese government in Tokyo and recently supported by Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima. In Ferguson the story is about an unarmed teenager shot multiple times and killed by police officers under highly dubious circumstances. Not much of a parallel there.

And yet, there is something about the official response to public protest that seems somehow familiar. In both Ferguson and Henoko the authorities have chosen to meet public discontent with a massive show of force, far out of proportion to the “threat” that they are facing. The basic idea in both cases is to intimidate the protesters with such an overwhelming display of the power of the state that the people might just slink away sullenly to their homes, abandoning the idea that they might possibly challenge the firm decisions of those who rule them.

Lurking somewhere in the background of both cases, too, is the so-called War on Terrorism, which in many ways has represented a power grab by state security agencies vis-a-vis the rights of individual citizens. Somehow the idea of popular protest has gradually been conflated in the official mind with Al-Qaida style terrorism. This connection was made explicit by LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba last November when he wrote in relation to protests against the secrecy bill: “It seems to me that in their essence shouting tactics are not all that different from terrorism.”

So now we have images all over the world of the Ferguson police dressed up as if they are ready to assault Fallujah in Iraq, while, gaining far less global notice, the Japan Coast Guard has mobilized an immense fleet in the waters of Henoko to deal with a few hundred mostly elderly Japanese peaceniks. The message to the protesters in both cases is much the same: Don’t mess with the power of the state, or we will hurt you.

That’s not exactly what a democratic society is supposed to be about.

But in Okinawa, of course, democracy has little to do with it. Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago City that includes Henoko, is one of those elderly protesters outside Camp Schwab, having been reelected this year on a platform of rejecting the base construction plan. He commented last week: “I cannot suppress my intense outrage.”

Hirokazu Nakaima, the Okinawa governor who approved the Henoko base construction plan, was elected in November 2010 after promising to the people that he would oppose it, as did his main opponent at that time, Yoichi Iha. Since he has reversed his policy, Nakaima’s public approval rating plummeted.

Now Okinawa faces another gubernatorial election in November in which it is quite possible that the local people will once again reject the base construction plan at the ballot box.

If they do so, who will Tokyo call out then?

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