A wave of national mourning has swept Japan after a gruesome video released over the weekend, apparently showed the Islamic State beheading celebrated journalist Kenji Goto.
If confirmed, Goto would be the second victim during the 19-day crisis, following the probable killing last week of Haruna Yukawa, an adventurer and traveler.
The hostage takers had initially demanded a $200 million ransom, a reaction to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge on January 17 to dole out $200 million in humanitarian aid to nations fighting the militant group.
But on January 24, the Islamic State put a new offer on the table: If Jordan released an attempted suicide bomber imprisoned in that country, Goto’s life would be spared.
In Japan, the tragedy is quickly emerging as a test of mettle for a country that has enjoyed decades of relative peace, with no standing army and a constitution that bars warfare as a means of settling disputes.
Japan has been a distant player in the efforts against Middle Eastern terrorism, with popular sentiment tending towards caution in far-off military campaigns. Many Japanese don’t want to risk revenge attacks or violence akin to the Charlie Hebdo killings in France or 9/11 in America.
But some pundits and policymakers believe that the latest debacle has revealed that the island nation no longer enjoys a safe level of isolation, and that Islamic extremists no longer see a distinction between the West and Japan.
As a result, Japanese op-eds published during the crisis have called for a stronger role in global affairs, and for greater powers to be vested in the National Self-Defense Forces, the country’s de facto army.