Source: MEMRI (The Arabs From a Japanese Perspective)

In an article titled ‘How the Arabs Appear to the Japanese,’ the head of the Kuwaiti National Council for Culture, Art, and Literature, liberal columnist Muhammad Al-Rumayhi, reviewed the book ‘The Arabs: A Japanese Point of View,’ by Japanese researcher Nobuaki Notohara. The book, which was recently published in Arabic, included criticism of societal patterns, oppression, and the absence of self-criticism in the Arab world. In his review, Al-Rumayhi presents the book as required reading for anyone interested in reform in the Arab world. The following are excerpts from Al-Rumayhi’s article: [1]

What Enabled the Japanese to Enter the New Cultural Age?

“Whenever some Arabs meet at a scientific convention and Japan is mentioned, the participants compare Japan’s revival to the yearned-for Arab revival. They say that Japan succeeded in entering the new age while at the same time preserving its social culture. Apparently, this is the majority opinion among Arab observers. It appears that this is an apologetic view or justification aimed at saying, ‘You can enter the age of modernization, globalization, and production without giving up your social heritage, the traditional political pattern, and the behavioral norms that are inappropriate for our time.’

“‘And if they are told that the Japanese entered the new age because they changed the political patterns and social behavior to which they were accustomed and because they adopted new ideas, some Arabs respond to this with amazement and denial…’

“Now a Japanese man comes along who expresses, in excellent Arabic, the opposite of what certain Arabs think. This is what Nobuaki Notohara wrote in his book. As soon as I read the book, I thought it [worthy of being] a required book for every Arab statesman who believes that reform is still possible in our Arab region.

“The testimony of Notohara – who dwelled among the Arabs for some 40 years and saw both Bedouin and urban culture, who speaks Arabic like an Arab and who followed Arab literary works and translated them into Japanese – is to the best of my knowledge the first Japanese testimony written about Arabs in their own language…”

‘Oppression is the Only Thing That Does Not Need to Be Proven in Arab Countries’

“The author points out the tension clearly apparent in the crowded Arab cities; [he] refers to the tension in the Arab street. He thinks that this tension stems from oppression. ‘The people walk through the streets as if they were being followed, faces frozen and silent, and [there are] long queues. A person is harmed by oppression even in a taxi, as the driver chooses his passenger according to where he [i.e. the driver] wishes to go, and refuses to take someone he doesn’t like.’ The book concludes with a comment that ‘the residents of the Arab cities are unhappy and dissatisfied. The people are silent and do not speak, but out of this suffocating silence we hear a cry!’

“Notohara believes that the reason for this atmosphere lies in the absence of social justice, and adds that he has the right to say something to the Arabs after all these years of living among them: ‘The absence of justice means the absence of the fundamental basis for human relations. Thus, people in the Arab countries say time and again that [in the Arab world] everything is possible because the laws that exist are not implemented and not honored.’

“The law does not protect the people from oppression because it is violated, and Notohara cites many examples and adds: ‘Oppression is the only thing that does not need to be proven in Arab countries.'”

In the Arab World, ‘The Ruler Rules For His Entire Life’

“One of the phenomena of oppression that surprise modern Japanese is that ‘the ruler rules for his entire life, while the Japanese prime minister’s term lasts no more than a few years. In every [Arab] country there is a ban on some newspapers, and authors and publications are subject to censorship.’

“A Japanese individual does not expect to see such phenomena. ‘… Anyone visiting Japan sees cars with loudspeakers in the streets [verbally] attacking the prime minister and the ruling party without anyone harassing them… But in the Arab countries the regime and the ruler are one. In most Arab countries, the only criteria for respecting a citizen and for the extent of his patriotism is the degree of his loyalty to the ruler. All these are alien to us Japanese of the modern age…’

“The author is aware of the fact that Japan was in the past subject to oppression. But the Japanese freed themselves from it, and it became history. [The author] says: ‘I think that oppression is an incurable disease in Arab society, and therefore any author or researcher who speaks of the Arab society without being aware of this simple and obvious fact is not a serious researcher.’

“‘As a result of oppression, the people try to be conformist in their opinions, dress, and homes, and under such circumstances the individual’s independence disappears. Similarly, the phenomenon of public responsibility is absent. Oppression engenders fear and creates spurious respect [for the government].'”

No Justice – No Public Responsibility

“‘Due to the absence of justice, there is no public responsibility. This is why Arab residents destroy parks, streets, public drinking fountains, and public transportation, thinking that they are destroying government property, not their own. Similarly, responsibility for… political prisoners [meaning those fighting for civil and human rights] who sacrificed themselves for society is lacking; society itself has abandoned these courageous people. People in Arab countries see the problems of political prisoners as a private problem of the family of each prisoner.’

“The Japanese individual wonders: ‘I can understand that the regimes [fight] prominent individuals, thinkers, authors, politicians, scientists, and artists, but why does the people itself abandon them?’

“According to the author, ‘the Arab adopts his ideas from outside, while the Japanese shapes his ideas on concrete events in Japan that he experiences every day. In Japan, new facts are added every day, while the Arab makes do with reconstructing events from the distant past…'”

‘People Need Domestic and External Criticism’

“The author compares Japan to the Arabs: ‘The Japanese had to deal with the bitter and difficult experience of the Japanese military taking control of the emperor, the government, and the people and leading the country to war… But we recognized our mistake and decided to correct it. We expelled the military and decided to rebuild what was destroyed by the military oppression. We learned that oppression leads to destruction of national resources and the murder of innocents… Self-criticism is a great value in the life of every people, and people need domestic and external criticism.'”

Why Don’t the Japanese Hate America (While the Arabs Do)?

“The author says that several times his Arab friends have asked him: ‘The U.S. destroyed you by dropping two nuclear bombs on your cities. Why don’t you hate America?’ He answers: ‘We must admit our mistakes. We were imperialist and we conquered peoples and destroyed many lands – China, Korea, and Oceania. We must criticize ourselves and then correct our mistakes. As to feelings, this is a limited personal matter that does not build the future.’

“Notahara insists that awareness of problems is the right approach to correcting them… The Japanese does not expect coming to a bank to withdraw money and having the teller give him less than the amount coming to him, or coming to the museum and having the museum director offer to sell him archeological exhibits…

“In his book, Notohara describes many instances; once he saw a nun in religious garb who paid a bribe. Why? Because in her institution, she could not get any attention without it. The author shows that the Arab value system contains many flaws that do not comply with the progress for which the [Arabs] yearn.”

‘I Think We All Need to Read This Book With Open Eyes and Hearts’

“I have tried to present in brief this book, which opens the eyes of anyone who wants to see. It presents two matters: Japan freed itself of many of its old values … in order to enter the modern age, [and] the Arab value system requires revision…

“I think that we all need to read this book with open eyes and hearts.”

The Arabs From a Japanese Perspective

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