So-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) abducted two Japanese citizens and released the video demanding Japanese government to pay 200 million dollars ransoms. The majority of Japanese people responded to this unfortunate news with sympathy for two hostages. However, at the same time, the considerable number of people claimed that they should be responsible for their own actions and cannot rely on the government more than they could. On the other hand, Japanese netizens (the Internet users), especially those on Twitter, reacted to the report with an unusual, humorous and the most Japanese way: mocking ISIS by tweeting hilarious photoshopped memes. They continuously posted and spread memes through the hashtag “#ISISクソコラグランプリ”, meaning “ISIS Crappy Photoshop Contest”. According to Al Jazeera, more than 50,000 Twitter users mentioned and/or re-tweeted this hashtag, making it trend in Japan and known to the world.
This mischief caused a huge controversy. Those who oppose making fun of three guys, that is, “Jihadi John”, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, blame the trend for its imprudence and are worried that it would provoke ISIS unnecessarily. Meanwhile, those who support these hilarious memes describe the mockery as the Japanese attitude of brave confrontation with terrorism, and of the unique way which laughs at it, and of the most possible way to show antipathy to terrorism for netizens. The news related to this hashtag has been reported by various foreign media such as Al Jazeera, The Sun and International Business Times. Despite the fact that the original tweets containing these memes were written in Japanese and were not created to show Japanese attitude to the whole world, many foreign Twitter users and the media found it funny and helped spread them all over the world. Anyhow, this large-scale controversy illustrates how much the hashtag have an impact among not only Japan, but also the world.
It seems that quite a few Japanese have negative feeling towards these memes mocking ISIS because they are “shameless”. In fact, these two Japanese hostages about to be beheaded should not be the targets of such jokes. Many people in the world would agree with this idea, but Japanese ethics particularly strictly hates to make fun of people facing difficulty; this kind of attitude would be blamed and considered as imprudent thing to do. Some non-Japanese people perplexedly suspect Japanese netizens to be people with no or few feelings of strain. Also, some Japanese frown upon this too optimistic and humorous attitude even claiming that Japanese cultural level is the lowest in the world.
This argument citing ethical reasons makes fine sense for Japanese people. Some tried to argue against it by insisting that terrorists’ ethics should be criticized before attacking creators’ ethics; however, this counter argument invalidly changes the contention and escapes from the real point to discuss. Overall, there is no flat contradiction to this objection against memes.
Japanese ethics is deep-rooted amongst Japanese people and it cannot be changed; nut nevertheless, you cannot criticize the memes only because you are scared of ISIS; that means you bend to terrorism, and eventually support it no matter what reasons you add. Moreover, if you think you should not post these memes because it would hurt ISIS’s feelings, your attitudes definitely help terrorism although you are not aware of it. Indeed, it is a sensitive issue but you can never suppress free speech as long as it does not support propaganda or hate speech.
Those who insist memes should not be posted only because they are scared of terrorists forget these significant questions: what about other Japanese citizens staying in the Middle East, and what about opposing terrorism? Japan can never show any weak attitudes. As mentioned above, terrorists probably have the recognition that “Japan pays, but does not use forces”. For ISIS, Japan would be the most advantageous enemy who only gives money to it but does not battle against it with weapons. In this sense, Japan needs to clearly prove itself to be the country which never bows to any kind of terrorism.
By the way, there is another angle regarding this issue. The point is that these photoshopped memes have nothing to do with Islam but only mocks terrorists unlike some European countries. For instance, these memes have nothing to do with Charlie Hebdo at all in that the memes only targeted terrorists alone, having nothing to do with any religions while the vulgar newspaper made fun of Prophet Muhammad, that is, sneered at the whole Islam. This fact illustrates that Japanese people are relatively friendly to Islam because no one turns to anti-Islam like those observed in Germany, France and the United States.
However, everything has its negative side. In addition to moral problem, there is one significant issue on the ISIS memes. It is that some of those who created and posted the memes are neither strongly motivated by political intentions like humanitarian antipathy to brutal terrorists, nor do they have enough ideas of the fact that freedom requires responsibility even though foreign supporters praised these memes as “Japanese brave attitudes against terrorism”, “resolutely expression of anti-terrorism” and “non-violent way to make terrorism look stupid, the worst thing for those who want to be appeared fearful by people”. In short, some Japanese creators only wanted to show off their works and attract attentions towards them.
One of the creators of the memes even clarified that he only wanted to mock ISIS just for fun, denying any political intentions. Another non-Japanese twitter user deplored that Japanese people seemed to have lost their patriotism. The lacks of interests in political, social and economic affairs especially amongst Japanese youth have turned into shameless mischiefs and “too much freedom of speech,” one Japanese netizen pointed out. Although some Japanese created and posted memes with specifically intending to show their strong antipathy against terrorists who abducted their fellow citizens, the number of these netizens is not so high. But at the same time, the number of those who felt no indignation over the abduction of Japanese by ISIS is extremely low or even zero. At least, these memes have been created based on negative feeling towards terrorists. After all, they are worried about two poor men who share the same home country as them.
In the end, the hashtag “ISIS Crappy Photoshop Contest” has become famous worldwide although it was never intended to spread Japanese attitudes all over the world. Although it provoked a huge controversy and it can be regarded as against Japanese ethics in that it sometimes mocks hostages, they cannot also bow to terrorism by fearing to make it indignant. It is fortunate that everyone only made fun of terrorists, no any religions unlike Charlie Hebdo; this fact shows the majority of Japanese nation do not have prejudice towards Islam and they try to understand Islam neutrally and properly. However, most creators of these memes do not have strong political principles that they wanted to fight terrorism with humour; therefore, foreign people should not exaggerate Japanese “brave” attitudes against ISIS; but nevertheless, it is safe to say that they will develop public opinion opposing terrorism because now the lives of their fellows are in hands of ISIS and they indeed had antipathy towards it to some extent.