The Price of Free Speech in Japan

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Koji Murata was dismissed Friday as president of a prestigious Japanese university for supporting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies. Photo: Kyodo

Michael Auslin writes: It’s not just American university campuses that are being roiled by clashes over the limits of free speech. At one of Japan’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, no less than the president himself has just been dismissed by his academic colleagues for publicly supporting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The dispute taps into a deeper national debate over Japan’s future.

“Japan’s academics are known to be a largely liberal lot, but the concerns over free speech in the Murata case reflect Japan’s larger problems. At root, it’s about how the country will face both its past and its future.”

A favorite claim of liberal academics and activists is that Japan remains one of the most conservative societies. In recent years, their invective has been directed toward Mr. Abe, who is charged with repressing and intimidating liberal views. Media outlets argue that they have been pressured, and academics warn that government forces are trying to stifle debate about the country’s wartime past.

Yet punishing free speech in Japan is no prerogative of the right. Last week, the president of the prestigious liberal-arts college Doshisha failed to be re-elected due to his support earlier this year of Mr. Abe’s controversial security legislation to relax post-World War II restrictions on the use of the military.

Koji Murata is a well-known and respected academic and public intellectual in Japan. A fixture on news shows, the nattily dressed Mr. Murata is also an expert on foreign policy and security. In July, he was one of several experts testifying in front of Japan’s Parliament in favor of Mr. Abe’s security bills, which would modestly expand Japan’s ability to conduct military operations abroad.

In response, more than 80 professors at his university released a public statement condemning Mr. Murata. Noting that they “pursue peace,” the faculty members stated “we are ashamed from the bottom of our hearts that despite [the nature of] the legislation, the professor who serves as the president publicly expressed support for the bills.” No mention was made of Mr. Murata’s right to state his views, nor was any impression given in their letter that Mr. Abe’s plans had any legitimacy worthy of public debate.

While Mr. Murata welcomed the dissent of his colleagues, saying the university has a tradition of allowing multiple opinions, his fellow academics apparently don’t share his commitment to the free exchange of ideas….(read more)

Source: WSJ

Mr. Auslin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and the author of “The Asia Bubble” (forthcoming in 2016 from Yale University Press).



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