Japan and the Middle East: Part Eight - Iraqi Attitudes towards Japan
Ayatollah Sheikh Ahmad Kadhum Sadkhan Al-Bahadeli (Leading Religious Figure, Najaf, Iraq) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
Sean Curtin: The deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq on a humanitarian mission was quite controversial because of Japan's war-renouncing Constitution. What is your view on the dispatch?
Ayatollah Sheikh Ahmad Al-Bahadeli: I do not have any problem what so ever with it.
Sean Curtin: What kind of impression do Iraqis have of Japan?
Ayatollah Sheikh Ahmad Al-Bahadeli: The Iraqis have a great respect for the Japanese and regard those who have come to Iraq highly. This is because they did not come to Iraq as part of the Coalition. The Japanese only came to Iraq as part of the mission to reconstruct the country and build up our infrastructure. They have already done a lot of goods things and improved the situation.
Sean Curtin: Can you give me an example?
Ayatollah Sheikh Ahmad Al-Bahadeli: Since they started offering services and assistance to the city of Samawah, they have done an excellent job there. One particular scheme comes to mind. They started an ingenious initiative to help clean up Samawah and get rid of all the city's rubbish.
In my home city of Najaf, we have hundreds of street workers who are employed to clean up the city, yet still the streets remain pretty dirty. On the other hand, the Japanese came up with a really clever plan for Samawah to solve the same problem. What they did was tell the locals that we are going to buy rubbish and waste from you. They said give us trash and we will give you cash. When people heard about this scheme, they started competing with each other to gather as much rubbish as they could, and in a short space of time the city was amazingly clean. Iraqis think this was a really brilliant idea for solving a serious problem. While it may not seem so important to people in the West, for Iraqis cleaning up the environment is an important issue.
This example illustrates that we are getting real benefits from the Japanese presence and we really appreciate their efforts.
Sean Curtin: Japanese people are mainly Buddhists and followers of the Shinto religion, so many feel they can act as a relatively neutral party in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East. This is because for Japan there is not the same religious friction that there is between the region's three great faiths, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Do you have a view on this?
Ayatollah Sheikh Ahmad Al-Bahadeli: We have nothing to fear from the Japanese or their religion because it is a matter between themselves and the Lord.
This interview was conducted at Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London 1 June 2005. Dr. Sayed Fazel Milani (Dean, International College of Islamic Science, London) kindly acted as interpreter.