[Viewpoint]Solidarity means mutual respect

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[Viewpoint]Solidarity means mutual respect

Since you are a member of society, you are bound to experience unpleasant incidents. From mild offenses that you can laugh off to more serious insults that are completely upsetting, people get their feelings hurt in many situations.
In social psychology, human pride is not just considered a mere feeling, but a social instinct which forms the basis of relationships with others. In other words, an individual desires enough solidarity to be valued and acknowledged by others, but desires the independence to be free of restrictions and act liberally.
When such desires are infringed upon, we feel that our dignity has been damaged and instinctively reject the offender. That psychology is a universal principle which applies to every social relationship beyond the individual level.
On Nov. 20, the Japanese government introduced a new immigration procedure. Foreigners entering the country will be fingerprinted and have their photographs taken. The new system is considered a threat to the dignity of every human being.
Every foreign national, with the exception of minors under the age of 16 and Koreans who have lived in Japan for generations as permanent residents or diplomats, must stand in front of the biometric device at the immigration gate and comply with a fingerprinting and picture scan.
If you refuse to have your picture and fingerprints taken, entry will be almost certainly denied. It might be wiser to throw a little smile at the camera if you don’t want any trouble entering.
The Japanese government said it is introducing the program as a counterterrorism measure. Japan is the second country to implement such a system, after the United States. The country, which has not been a target of terrorist attack since 9/11, has another motivation to conduct fingerprint and photograph checks on foreign visitors.
Experts anticipate the system will be an effective means of identifying illegal aliens. Japan might be hoping to beef up its national security by rounding up both suspected terrorists and illegal aliens, lumping them together as foreign nationals who illegally try to enter the country.
The reasoning behind the measure seems to be that Japan has concluded that strengthening its exclusivist attitude toward foreigners will contribute more to the national interest than forming solidarity with foreigners to prevent terrorist attacks.
In other words, they consider singling out unlawful foreigners more important than causing psychological damage on innocent foreigners by forcing them to provide biometric information.
However, in order for such a decision to be reasonable, there should be proof that all terrorists are foreigners.
Terrorist attacks in the United States, Britain and Spain have involved local citizens, and the latest wave of terrorism is not restricted by the perpetrators’ nationality.
The United States also requires foreigners to provide biometric information when they enter the country. But there have been no reports saying the system has succeeded in singling out terrorists.
Therefore, if preventing terrorism is the true purpose, there is no reason to exclude only Japanese nationals and Korean permanent residents from the fingerprinting. Since the U.S. system has not yet contributed to the arrest of any terrorist, it is still uncertain whether the new checks are even able to identify terrorists.
According to estimates in the Japanese media, about 7,000 foreigners who enter Japan turn into illegal aliens every year. More than 7 million foreigners visit Japan each year, and a third of them are Koreans. Because of the 7,000 or so illegal aliens, all the innocent foreigners could be considered to be potential terrorists.
Of course, in times like today, individual liberties can be somewhat restricted for public security. But fingerprinting takes on a whole different meaning, depending on the history of the society and individual beliefs.
In the 1980s, the community of Korean permanent residents objected to the fingerprinting system and Japanese civil society heard them.
After 15 years of fierce struggles, that system has been abolished. But today, only eight years later, the fingerprinting system has been revived with the awkward justification that it is part of the war against terrorism.
Diplomacy is based on reciprocity. To respect the psychological dignity that is the basis of social connections, it is only proper for Korea to have a reciprocal immigration policy.
We are living in an era of terrorism, and a punitive and hostile reciprocity is not appropriate.
It’s about time for Seoul and Tokyo to seek a strategy of reciprocity rather than hostility.

*The writer is a professor of linguistics at Tokai University in Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Kyung-ju
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