A holy fatwa and a recreation oasis for the Japanese in Iraq

Monzurul Huq writes from Tokyo
With Japanese troops already in Iraq, the authorities in Tokyo have now realised that the soldiers who have been sent to a hostile land would need few other things that would make their stay in that scary and bitter surroundings a bit more tolerable. To ensure that nothing goes wrong with the soldiers of the Japanese army during the period of their stay in Iraq as part of the first military contingent dispatched to a war zone after World War II, something more than mere luck would probably be an essential prerequisite. Japanese officials accompanying the troops in Iraq have eventually come up with few ideas that they think would not only help them keeping death at a bay, but also would reinvigorate the lost energies of soldiers who might easily become victims of psychological torment. The strangest of those ideas not only contradicts what usually is meant by the simple term ‘moving ahead’, but also runs contrary to religious and ethnic harmony that Iraq is now desperately in need of.

As the issue of proclaiming fatwa has quite long been a subject of heated debates and controversy within the Islamic societies and beyond, ideas and thinking that usually are regarded as advanced are supposed to shun anything that has even the slightest of touch with anything like that. As Japan has sent its troops to Iraq to help the country come out of what has variously been proclaimed as tyranny, backwardness, negligence and suppression, Japanese troops are supposed to be among the frontrunners of those proclaiming Jihad against fatwa or similar practices. Yet, it is the Japanese in Iraq who have become chief patron of an age old distorted ritual synonymous only to religious malpractice.

Young Japanese soldiers no doubt feel vulnerable at a place of which they know virtually nothing. Moreover, as there is no shortage of body counting among any sides of the broader conflict, avoiding death by all possible means might not sound to be an idea easy not to resort to. In a place where death hovers around all the time, something more than raw physical training or the skill to operate sophisticated weapons that look similar to those seen in horror movies are needed to ensure that death doesn’t come more closer. Any absence of that invisible something can easily create a vacuum, which might result in poor performance of those dispatched with a heavy load of noble responsibilities. That is precisely what has prompted the Japanese military commanders in Iraq to resort to Mullahs to fill up the vacuum.

The commander of the Japanese forces has requested the Shite cleric of Samawah, the southern Iraqi town that Japan had earlier chosen as the sight for its military base, to issue a Fatwa that would proclaim harming the Japanese in Iraq a sinful act in the eyes of Allah. The cleric, Maad al Waili, who was interviewed recently by a Japanese daily told that he would soon issue the Fatwa that he hoped would guarantee the safety of Japanese soldiers in Iraq. The cleric belongs to a Shiite faction loyal to Najaf based supreme leader Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani and once served as the regional representative of the sect. The fatwa, to be issued in al-Waili’s name, would be the first such kind of step that would call on local residents to protect a foreign military unit based in occupied Iraq.

Shiite cleric al-Waili’s fatwa is to be named ‘Respect the Japanese,’ and will be displayed in front of a Samawah mosque, which would proclaim the protection of Japanese troops as a religious obligation of the local people. The cleric claimed that protecting Japanese troops would be in line with public interests that are emphasized in Islamic teachings. He also warned that anyone failing to abide by the dictates of the fatwa would be considered a traitor to Iraq.

Reading the news of Japanese asking for the help of fatwa to drive death away from a virtual death camp, one cannot help wondering if the purpose of the Japanese military mission in Iraq is to help the country move forward or to drag it back towards the same darkened age of which it once could successfully come out. The practice of proclaiming fatwa was firmly banned in Saddam’s Iraq as the idea contradicted with the concept of modernity. What is happening in Samawah now, therefore, shows the other side of reality not only of Iraq, but that of Japan as well. Japan was once outrightly critical of the practice of proclaiming fatwa in the name of Allah, as the Iranian Ayatullah’s notorious fatwa against Salman Rushdie claimed its pray in Tokyo when Rushdie’s Japanese translator was found dead in strange circumstances. So, the Samawah incident is indeed a significant backtrack for Japan, as Tokyo is seen willingly surrendering itself to a practice that has mostly been associated with ideas that go against accepted civilised norms.

Guarded by the protected shield of fatwa, young Japanese soldiers in Iraq would soon also be able to enjoy few amenities of modern life that they are used to. The military unit dispatched to Iraq will not only get involved in restoring water supply system around Samawah, but it would also perform an additional duty of building a 1,000 square-meter recreation centre equipped with a gym, massage room, libraries and leisure rooms equipped with DVD players and computer games. But once in operation, the recreation centre will be strictly off-limits to Samawahns, whose holy fatwa is to protect the soldiers while they are out of that oasis.

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