Friday, July 15, 2016

Islam - again (and Japan, too)

Oh no.  News of yet another terrible radical Islamic inspired attack in France.

While in Japan recently, I kept thinking what a security nightmare that country could be if Islamic terrorism was a serious issue there.   There are now specific announcements on their train system that security has been upgraded, but whether that is due to a terrorism concern, or just worry about crime generally, I'm not sure.   But seriously, that country has been trusting its own people for so long, they have practices in place that would just make a terrorist attack so easy and they are slow to change.

For example, luggage lockers are extremely common around train stations and (I think) even at Narita airport;  I presume they're not much available in Britain or the US any more?   Maybe they aren't such a good spot for a terrorist to think about causing maximum danger, given that the locker itself would have effect on the blast, and there are not usually that many people milling around them, but still...

The most obvious issue is on Shinkansen, which are terrific but do not provide adequate space for large baggage.  The few people with large luggage (usually foreigners, as most Japanese use their incredibly efficient internal luggage or parcel delivery services)  often do have to leave them in the space behind the last row of seats and the wall in each carriage.   (It's a pretty big gap, and can you fit a few large suitcases/backpacks in there.  I doubt it's intentionally there for luggage, but in practice, that's what it gets used for.)  This means you are often sitting far from your luggage, sometimes mixed up with other people's.

The announcements say that you should tell staff if luggage not with you is yours, and there are conductors often moving through the train, seemingly only tallying up the number of occupied seats and bowing as they enter and exit the carriage; but I know from direct observation that they just don't worry about the luggage sitting at the end of the carriage spot.  (I never bothered trying to tell them; but I saw some other foreigners doing so, to a conductor who just smiled and nodded and moved on.) 

It is, in other words, the perfect spot for a terrorist bomb; and one which does not even involve suicide tactics, given that you can move freely between carriages.

Should I be making this observation out loud?   I don't know, but I'm sure I can't be the only foreigner who has thought about this...

Anyhow, I see from the Japan Times, which I don't normally expect to have much about Islamic terrorism concerns, that the Japanese do not waste time fretting too much about privacy rights when it comes to monitoring Muslims.  In fact, it's pretty extraordinary:
Qureshi, like almost all of Japan’s roughly 100,000 Muslim residents, is no stranger to police surveillance. However, the true extent of the systematic profiling and surveillance of Japan’s Muslim community only came to light in 2010, when over 100 internal Metropolitan Police Department documents were leaked online.
The leak revealed that the police had compiled detailed profiles on 72,000 Muslims, including personal information such as bank account statements, passport details and records of their movements. The leak also showed that police had at times planted cameras inside mosques and used undercover agents to infiltrate Islamic nonprofit organizations and halal grocers and restaurants.
The leaked documents, which were made available unredacted online and included the personal profiles of dozens of Muslims, were downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first few weeks.
A detailed breakdown of Qureshi’s life was among the documents, but he says he wasn’t surprised. He had known he was being followed for a long time.
There are some judicial limits, but the basic idea is still OK:
After the 2010 leak, 17 of the Muslims named in the documents sued the government and police in a bid to have the widespread spying ruled illegal. In 2014, the Tokyo District Court agreed that the leak had violated the plaintiffs’ right to privacy and awarded them ¥90 million in compensation, but it also ruled that the intelligence-gathering was “necessary and inevitable.”
The court sidestepped the issue of blanket profiling by religion, as did the Tokyo High Court in an appeal the following year.
Earlier this year, the group asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the lower court’s decision.
The leaked documents refer to all those profiled as “suspects.” Their lawyers argued that spying solely on the basis of faith, rather than any suspicious activity, breached their plaintiffs’ rights to privacy, equality and freedom of religion. The Supreme Court dismissed the case on May 31.
In another Japan Times article of recent interest, a writer looks at the historic reasons why Muslims often don't trust other Muslims.  It starts with an issue I did not even realise existed (well, apart from the fact that Sunnis and Shiites may well want to kill each other):
The mistrust that pervades Middle Eastern societies is hard to miss. As controlled experiments confirm, Arabs have substantially less trust in strangers, foreign or domestic, than, say, Europeans. This hampers progress on many fronts, from business development to government reforms.
Low-trust societies participate disproportionately less in international commerce, and attract less investment. And, indeed, according to the World Values Survey and related research, trust among individuals in the Middle East is low enough to limit commercial transactions to people who know one another either personally or through mutual acquaintances. Because of their lack of trust, Arabs will often pass up potentially lucrative opportunities to gain through exchange....
One potentially important clue lies in the difference between perceptions of Muslims and Christians. To be sure, there are no official data quantifying the deficit; in most parts of the Middle East, too few Christians are left to make meaningful statistical comparisons. But casual evidence suggests that the region’s shoppers, merchants, and investors generally consider local Christians to be more trustworthy than local Muslims.
 This historical source of this, according to the writer, go back some way:
My work with the economic historian Jared Rubin exploring Istanbul’s 17th- and 18th-century Islamic court records may offer insights into why.
At that time, Istanbul was a cosmopolitan city; around 35 percent of its local residents were Christian, and 6 percent were Jewish. According to Islamic law (Shariah), Muslims had to do business according to Islamic rules, and if they wanted to adjudicate a conflict, they had to use an Islamic court. For their part, Christians and Jews could do business under their own rules, though they were free also to follow Islamic rules and to use Islamic courts, if they so desired. But, of course, if they were involved in a case against a Muslim, that had to be handled in an Islamic court.
When a Muslim and a non-Muslim faced each other in a trial, the Muslim enjoyed significant advantages. First, the judges’ training predisposed them to give the benefit of any doubt to a fellow Muslim. Second, the court staff was entirely Muslim, which meant that testimony was viewed solely from a Muslim perspective. Third, whereas Muslims could testify against anyone, Christians and Jews could testify only against another non-Muslim.
But these advantages had a downside. Because the legal system made it easier for Muslims to breach contracts with impunity, they were more often tempted to default on their debts and to renege on their obligations as business partners and sellers.
Meanwhile, non-Muslims, whose obligations were enforced more vigorously, gained a reputation for trustworthiness. To reflect differences in perceived risk, lenders, who were predominantly Muslim, charged about two percentage points less for credit to Christian and Jewish borrowers than to Muslims (15 percent annually, as opposed to 17 percent).
So it seems that perceptions of trustworthiness in the Arab world are rooted, at least partly, in the uneven enforcement of commitments under Islamic law. The sectarian differences in legal enforcement did not last. In the mid-19th century, Islamic courts gave way to what were essentially secular courts, at least with respect to commerce and finance. The enforcement of commitments then became more balanced.

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