On Aug. 4, the National Assembly for Peace and Democracy opened at a conference hall in Kamata, a city within the Tokyo metropolitan area. Attended by some 500 activists from throughout Japan, as well as participants from South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and the United States, this was the 37th annual National Assembly, better known by its Japanese acronym Zenko. The group first emerged from the struggle against Japanese involvement in the Vietnam war, and history has now brought it full circle, as Washington again calls upon Tokyo to back up a US military adventure—this time in Iraq, where Japan still maintains troops in an officially “noncombatant” role. The most honored guests at the Zenko conference were Samir Adil and Nadia Mahmood, leaders of the Iraq Freedom Congress (IFC), a civil resistance coalition which came together in 2005 to oppose the occupation and demand a secular state. Another luminary was Tokushin Yamauchi, a leading opponent of the US military presence in Okinawa, who was elected to the upper house of the Diet in last month’s dramatic turn-around elections that dealt a humiliating defeat to the Liberal Democratic Party of pro-military Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The former mayor of Yomitanson, an Okinawa municipality where he led a long and ultimately sucessful struggle to kick out a US military airstrip, Tokushin was elected on the ticket of the center-left Social Democratic Party with a platform of opposing both the US military presence and Abe’s drive to remilitarize Japan. From the stage at the Zenko conference, Tokushin pledged to “protect our peace constitution, and to fight together with you against the construction of new military bases on Okinawa against the will of the local people.” He voiced his support of Zenko’s “non-defended localities” initiative, calling for municipal non-cooperation with US or Japanese military forces. At the end of his speech, he was presented with a stuffed baby dugong by a young Zenko activist in a dugong costume—a reference to coastal dugong habitat off Okinawa threatened by US plans to build the new Henoko offshore airstrip.
IFC president Samir Adil’s comments also touched on the theme of local non-cooperation with military powers. He told the conference that the IFC’s self-governing zone of some 5,000 in Baghdad, established in the district of al-Awaithia last September, is an island of co-existence in a city torn by sectarian cleansing. Thanks to the IFC Safety Force, a civil patrol, the district has become a no-go zone for the sectarian militias. “There has been no sectarian killing in Husseinia since September 2006,” he said.
Adil was clear on where he placed the blame for the crisis of violent sectarianism in Iraq. “The occupation and the US-imposed constitution have divided Iraq, Sunni against Shiite. The IFC is the only force to oppose this division of society.” He cited the IFC’s success in carving out zones of tolerance as a testament to “the power of the people.” But he also emphasized the threat to the IFC’s work, noting the July 4 slaying of Safety Force leader Abdelhussein Saddam in a raid on his home by US Special Forces.
Hailing Zenko’s success in raising funds and support for the IFC in Japan, Adil said: “Only with your support we can build the Safety Force and prevent ethnic cleansing in Iraq. Rich people invest money to make money. But every yen you raise to support the IFC saves lives in Iraq.”
Zenko’s most significant acheivement over the past year has been the raising of $400,000 which allowed the IFC to establish a satellite station, Sana TV, to oppose the occupation and promote a secular order for Iraq. Zenko is posting Japanese translations of Sana TV broadcasts at Peacetv.jp.
Nadia Mahmood, Sana TV’s London-based anchor, said that in 2003 when she told a conference in Dublin of her dream of a progressive satellite TV station for Iraq, “the audeince stood in disbelief—they thought such a thing was not possible and was only a nice dream. Now that dream has come true.”
Mahmood said Sana TV regularly produces programming on labor struggles, women’s issues, and the impact of the occupation on Iraqi society. With studios in both London and Baghdad, it continues to face material challenges—such as unreliable electricity, necessitating on-site generators. She also said Sana TV hopes to build “mobile studios” for Iraq, citing the threat of attack from either occupation forces or sectarian militias.
Adil and Mahmood led an afternoon workshop on building international solidarity with the IFC. Other panelists at the session included Mori Fumihiro, Zenko’s coordinator for Iraq solidarity; Jeong Hyeon Cheol, a young labor activist from Seoul who founded a South Korean IFC solidarity committee; and this reporter, acting in his capacity as a founding member of the New York-based National Organization for the Iraqi Freedom Struggles (NO-IFS).
The Korean delegation was led by Na Gyeongnim, one of 11 plaintiffs bringing suit in the Japanese courts to have the names of loved ones killed fighting for Japan in World War II removed from the controversial Yasukuni shrine—which also honors convicted “Class A” war criminals, including Hideki Tojo. Na Gyeongnim’s father was conscripted into the Japanese armed forces from his home in occupied Korea and sent to fight in the Pacific. She says her family was denied information about his fate until he was enshrined at Yasukuni in 1959. She told the conference: “When my mother was told he was enshrined, she said, ‘Why?—He strongly opposed the war.’ She is now 89, and her last wish is that his spirit be freed from the shrine and returned to Korea.”
The evening cultural presentation featured folk music and a traditional dance troupe from Okinawa, several rock bands made up of high school-age Zenko adherents, and a performance by Zenko’s theater outfit. This depicted an unemployed youth who joins Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and ends up in Iraq, where he witnesses terrorized civilians caught between occupation troops and Sunni and Shiite militias.
See our last report from the Zenko conference.
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Zenko international resolutions
The following International Resolutions were adopted Aug. 5, the final day of the Zenko conference:
Domestic Resolutions included:
*Support for Indonesian peasants displaced by the Koto Panjang dam in Sumatra. Built in 1993 with Official Development Aid (ODA) from Japan, the dam displaced some 8,000, who received inadequate compensation, and some of whom are now bringing suit in the Japanese courts.
*Support for Japanese railway workers thrown out of work in the 1987 privatization of the country’s rail lines, many of whom have still received no new work, retraining or compensation. A group of the former rail workers brought suit four years ago; the case is still pending.