[Viewpoint]Distressing callsIn April 2004, the Japanese archipelago was boiling over with debate after three Japanese who were in Iraq on a news coverage and volunteer mission were taken hostage by rebel forces in Iraq.
Instead of showing sympathy to the kidnap victims, however, the Japanese people kept asking, “Who asked them to go to such a deadly place?”
There were plenty of letters sent and telephone calls made, cursing the the family members of the victims.
The right-wing press demanded that the three “apologize to the Japanese people and the government for causing trouble.”
And the government said, menacingly, “We will charge the kidnapped people for the expenses spent on the rescue operation.”
After returning home, the hostages endured criticism from all sides. They had to issue an apology and their family members had to bow before the people saying, “Sorry for causing everyone anxiety.”
When a Korean, Kim Seon-il, was kidnapped two months later, the reaction of the Korean people was quite different.
The whole nation expressed worries and concern about his safe return.
The Korean government also vowed to do anything it could to secure his release. When he was finally killed by the rebel forces and his body sent home, the whole country mourned his death, expressed anger about the cold-blooded murder of an innocent Korean and prayed for the late man.
Three years have passed since then. Now, 23 Korean youths have been taken hostage by the Taliban. The reaction of the Korean society is not the same as it was three years ago. This time, it is ice-cold. The harsh words, “Why should the government use taxpayers’ money to bring back people who ignored their warning?” keep getting repeated across Korea.
Why has the reaction of the people changed completely? I think the intervention of religion is the key.
That becomes more clear when people jeer and use strong words on Web sites such as, “Ask your own God to save them,” and “The clergyman who drove his followers to the jaws of death should kill himself.”
In our society, the antipathy has been high against overzealous Christians who randomly promote “imperialistic missionary activities abroad” and “the stubborn propagation of Protestant churches” who ignore the feelings of people who live in areas they are trying to convert.
On top of that, a dash of anti-U.S. sentiment has been added. People think Muslims who are persecuted by the United States are the victims. They are saying that because the Christians wanted to build “God’s Land” in the Islamic country, they deserve to have been kidnapped.
It is true that the volunteer group behaved indiscreetly. They have become a burden to the Korean troops still in Afghanistan, Dongui and Dasan, which have been working hard for international peace for some years. They have also put the government in a difficult position. In international negotiations, the winner takes all.
I also sympathize with the opinion that the emphasis on the missionary accomplishments of the Korean Protestant churches, which have sent the second-largest number of missionaries all over the world, is excessive.
However, this is not right. Although they made bad decisions, it is not right to condemn people who have a youthful passion to help their neighbors in pain. The Taliban are the fanatics. They don’t hesitate to kidnap and kill innocent civilians.
Afghanistan, where a civil war between the Taliban and moderate government forces is being fought, is the most dangerous place in the world. But it is a place where the helping hands of volunteers are needed the most. This is the reason why volunteer workers were dispatched there.
When the Japanese public criticized the Japanese hostages, then-U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell encouraged the victims by saying, “Society will not progress if there are no people willing to risk their lives.”
Le Monde, a French newspaper, saracastically called Japan the country that wanted its hostages to pay for their rescue. And, the paper added, the genuineness of the youths have enhanced the image of Japan, which was not so good internationally. People go to war-torn places to help others because there are people who need help. After all we do not scold a climber in deep distress who calls for a rescue team on a tall mountain.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom