1st Quarterly, 2006 No.139

Discriminatory Events Reflect the Times

Suehiro Kitaguchi
Secretary General of BLL Osaka

Frequent Occurrence of Events

Analyzing recent discriminatory events gives us an insight into the present nature of the Buraku problem. Some of the most conspicuous features of recent discriminatory events are that they are increasingly hateful, malicious, and disrespectful of the law. A representative case is that of "Mr. U" in Tokyo. Mr. U was one of the victims of a serious case of discrimination in which the perpetrator sent a series of offensive postcards and letters to a number of victims, including Mr. U, over the course of a year. In the end, the perpetrator was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison. The postcards and letters he sent were particularly hateful. In his statement, the perpetrator said he was influenced by so-called "Dowa bashing" books that have been frequently published in recent times. These books are indicative of the related societal trend.

Since the expiration of the Law on Special Measures in March 2002, information and opinion produced by the media have been reflected in discriminatory incidents. While the media does have the right to criticize the Buraku liberation movement, its one-sided criticism causes prejudice and results in the acceleration and incitement of discrimination. The media often equates "freedom to criticize" with "freedom to discriminate". This is an all-to-common aspect of modern discrimination.

Dowa bashing

Recent "Dowa bashing" publications gain the support of readers who have preexisting prejudicial attitudes and who dislike Dowa. These publications present the Dowa issue in a way that takes advantage of the prejudice that

already exists in society. The perpetrator of the discriminatory postcard incident mentioned above was one of the most extremist readers of these publications.

Discriminatory attitudes are most highly activated when an individual's sense of superiority and victim mentality overlap. Rumor and demagogy usually play a significant role in the propagation of discriminatory attitudes. Information that is emphasized or distorted in order to accommodate the prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes already prevailing in society is particularly likely to be accepted as the truth, even if it is false. In settings where prejudice and discriminatory attitudes toward Buraku prevail, discriminatory information is more readily diffused than non-discriminatory information. This means that discriminatory information becomes more prevalent, which encourages further discrimination.

A common practice used to attack a community that is discriminated against is to single out a "bad man" from within the community for criticism to produce an atmosphere in which the people of that community find it difficult to respond. Thus, discrimination and prejudice against the community is reinforced. Such social tendencies toward Dowa bashing can be clearly seen in the cases of discrimination discussed later in this article.

Similarities to historic incidents

Another common discriminatory event involves the illegal acquisition of family registers. However, this is not a new development. While efforts to eliminate discrimination against Buraku have had some effect, recent discriminatory phenomena commonly occur in similar patterns to those of historic cases. Deep-rooted discriminatory attitudes toward Buraku have somewhat diminished over time, but some people are still bound by strong prejudicial attitudes. This is typically represented by discrimination in marriage, the illegal acquisition of family registers, discriminatory graffiti, and discriminatory actions that occur in the course of municipal mergers and the reorganization of school areas, both of which are taking place today. In these events, Buraku people and Buraku districts are evaded or excluded, just as they have been historically.

Anonymous acts of discrimination

Secondly, many acts of discrimination are committed by people who attack anonymously from the dark. The persistent and malicious series of discriminatory postcards and letters discussed above is a good example of this type of discrimination. The perpetrator continued sending letters and postcards for over a year without being located. Furthermore, an analysis of the increasing frequency of discrimination on the Internet shows that the gap between discriminatory attitudes and acts is smaller than ever.

Before, discriminatory events did not occur until the discriminatory sentiment and energy necessary for the sentiment to be manifested had been accumulated to a relatively high level within the perpetrator. Now, with the accessibility of the Internet, the manifestation of discrimination requires very little energy since anybody can commit an act of discrimination with complete anonymity. This facilitates an increase in frequency of anonymously committed discriminatory acts. In the past, potential perpetrators were less likely to act due to the comparatively higher risk of their identity being discovered. However, the Internet allows people to commit anonymous discriminatory acts very easily. In this context, it can be said that the advance of information technology has stimulated an increase in frequency of discriminatory events.

The information environment

Thirdly, the number of discriminatory events occurring in cyberspace is increasing. Acts of discrimination are now committed in virtual space, but the people who commit them still live in the real world. It is not irrelevant to say that the only change has been made in the place in which people commit discrimination. In the past, perpetrators had to go outside their homes to write discriminatory messages on walls or in public spaces, but today they do so in cyberspace. The discriminatory messages they write can now be freely viewed by anybody at any time and from any place. For the perpetrators, nothing has changed except that they now write their messages using keyboards from their homes. However, there is a significant difference in the social impact this produces. Just as the information environment has changed the world, discrimination on the Internet is changing the pattern of discriminatory events.

Discriminatory events on the Internet

With social development and the progress of technology, human rights problems are becoming more sophisticated, complex and important. Discriminatory events occurring on the Internet today are versatile in a way that nobody could have anticipated 15 years ago. An analysis of current discriminatory events demonstrates the need for a system to adequately address these events. For instance, the Internet has no constraints in terms of time or geography and is used by an unspecified majority who do not identify themselves or leave behind any evidence that could indicate who they are. It is replicable, reusable, and requires no physical space. Discriminatory events that freely take advantage of these characteristics must be addressed using a different approach from the traditional one we have used in the real world.

Marriage and land discrimination

The fourth characteristic is related to the motives behind discriminatory acts. Most discriminatory acts involve the evasion or exclusion of Buraku people, as in marriage discrimination. Marriage, employment and land discrimination (land profiling) all occur at critical times in a person's life. While much progress has been made in eliminating discrimination in employment, discrimination in marriage and land (in which people try to avoid purchasing properties in Buraku areas or their surroundings) is still persistent.

Today, with market fundamentalism dominating society and expanding economic gaps between people, certain ideological trends tend to accelerate discrimination. People who have a firm belief in such ideologies discriminate in order to attack certain communities or incite discrimination against them. This kind of discrimination occurs with a high level of frequency.

Society inequality

Existing behind discriminatory events with the aforementioned characteristics is a persistent discriminatory attitude. Discriminatory attitudes based on strong prejudice closely relate to the social system. Discriminatory attitudes are readily fostered in today's social system, which is strongly influenced by market fundamentalism.

Secondly, the economic and industrial factors that widen gaps between people can also be identified as causes. As many statistics show, the gaps between haves and have-nots are getting wider.

Thirdly, ideology that comes into conflict with egalitarianism and which reinforces discrimination is becoming more influential in today's society. This ideology, combined with Dowa bashing and other present social tendencies, also constitutes one of the causes of current discriminatory events.

The preservation and permission of discrimination by the social system

Finally, I refer to problems in the social system that preserve and permit discrimination. As evidenced by the illegal acquisition of family registers, Japan's legal, administrative and social systems have many institutional defects. For example, there is no system in place to automatically inform an individual that a third party has acquired a copy of his or her family register.

Today, 30 years after the emergence of the "Buraku List" scandal, the production and sale of Buraku lists does not constitute a violation of the law in prefectures where no ordinances exist to restrict such activities. These problems with the social system constitute a significant factor in modern discriminatory events.

It is very important for the Buraku liberation movement and other concerned institutes to take into consideration the characteristics and background of present discriminatory events in their efforts to eliminate Buraku discrimination. This is particularly important in the present conditions where social discontent caused by economic disparities can be easily directed toward vulnerable groups and communities, and in which anybody can freely use the Internet to accelerate discrimination. It would not be surprising if an explosive phenomenon of discrimination and exclusion emerged, such as that which occurred under the Nazis.

(from monthly magazine "Human Rights," May 06 issue)

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