Thursday, March 22, 2007

Japanese Chutzpah

I was all set to award this week's chutzpah prize to the Bush Administration for accusing Congress of "political spectacle" by using its subpoena power to investigate possible unconstitutional activities such as the violation of due process; but that would have been too predictable. Instead, I decided that, once again, the Japanese have outdone the Americans, at least when it comes to comparing their Foreign Minister Aso with our President Bush. Those who follow the news from Japan know that Aso has a track record for this sort of thing. However, now that he has decided to use his bully pulpit to discuss the Middle East, his attitude deserves a bit more attention. Here is the Reuters lead on his latest move:

Blond, blue-eyed Westerners probably can't be as successful at Middle East diplomacy as Japanese with their "yellow faces", Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was quoted by media as saying on Wednesday.

"Japan is doing what Americans can't do," the Nikkei business daily quoted the gaffe-prone Aso as saying in a speech.

"Japanese are trusted. If (you have) blue eyes and blond hair, it's probably no good," he said.

"Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces."

This is, indeed, a quantum leap beyond anything that could be dished out against Bush, even by his harshest critics.

I also think it is important to acknowledge this episode as further evidence that, for all the injunctions from Isaiah Berlin and Anthony Appiah that would guide us towards better cross-cultural understanding (I see that the last time I introduced this topic, I also invoked Jürgen Habermas), intolerance still rules the roost just about anywhere you would care to look. (In the roughly two months since I started this blog, I have tagged seven of my posts with "intolerance." I just reviewed them and had not realized how diverse their scope had been.) There is no doubt that Aso is an easy target; but, if Wilfred Owen said about the First World War that "all a poet can do today is warn," then, where reckless language the reeks of intolerance is concerned, we may do better to take our lead from V for Vendetta and change Owen's text to say, "all a blogger can do is ridicule!"

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