My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE 112: “What about we stop it with the ‘whataboutism’?” (July 16, 2018)


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What about we stop it with the ‘whataboutism’?

These are troubling times for human rights activists.

For 27 years I’ve been writing about civil, political and human rights for non-Japanese (NJ) and other minorities in Japan. And I’ve never been more confused.

Not least because the United States, the putative paragon of human rights, has been flouting them.

Remember, this is a country so cocksure about its own record that its State Department offers annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” for each United Nations member.

Yet President Donald Trump has been undermining international norms of law, justice and society — and with the glee of a super-villain.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, recently we’ve seen U.S. leadership abrogate numerous treaties, erode well-established security and trade regimes (such as NATO and the G7), cozy up to the world’s most authoritarian regimes and mimic their tactics, invoke the language of white nationalism to dehumanize minorities, and foment a culture of fear, loathing and vindictive reprisal towards anyone not in their ideological camp.

Speaking of camps, who would have ever imagined that the U.S. would put foreign children in cages? Create “tender-age” internment centers for toddlers separated from their families at the border? Force 3-year-olds to represent themselves in American immigration courts?

Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented migration and asylum seekers is so cruel that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced it as “unconscionable” and “illegal” under international law.

Hours later, the U.S. petulantly withdrew from the Human Rights Council, of which it had been a charter member since 1947.

In Just Be Cause’s view, the worst thing about these rapid-fire shocks to the system is not the confusion but the distraction. Presidential historian Jon Meacham, author of “The Soul of America,” pointed out how Trump “owns our mind space” in what he calls “the world’s longest hostage siege.” We are prisoners of a self-promoting celebrity so adept at managing news cycles that he sucks the oxygen from other issues.

So this is where we arrive at the big question of this column: How can JBC focus on human rights in Japan given the distractions in America?…

Read the rest of the column at:

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5 comments on “My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE 112: “What about we stop it with the ‘whataboutism’?” (July 16, 2018)

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Another milestone article! Whataboutism is exactly the fallacy argument tactics to deliberately deflect the attention away from the point of issue/debate. I have seen this in anti-immigration policy, gun-control, FBI investigation, Slavery and Confederate statutes, school choice debate. WaPo’s Dan Zak and John Oliver make a good illustration of Whataboutism.

    WaPo: Whataboutism

    John Oliver:

  • I’m left to think that the only way to combat this insidious debate technique is to put words into the mouth of the ‘whattabouter’. For example, if they say “whatabbout racism in the USA!?”, you have to immediately come back with “So you are saying you’re in favour of racism in Japan, is that right?”. It’s the only way to bring the discussion back on track.

  • Wait a minute, let me refine that. The reply should be:
    “So you are saying you’re in favour of racism in both the US and Japan, is that right?”.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    As always, you see some clueless trolls popped into the JT thread in an attempt to counter so-called USA bashing. That includes one who got kicked out of this blog several years ago. Like apologists defending racism in Japan, they blunt it off with a load of nonsense in desperate attempt to defend Trump by denying all documented reports about his separation policy. They must be so happy to serve their roles by demonstrating an example of whataboutism to their great embarassment and humiliation. And one deranged comment accused Debito of cherry-picking immigration for his piece, without realizing that the core of the article is how we should engage in social issues affecting NJ in Japan. It just double-downs the idiocy of cognitive dissonance and artificial truth. I wonder it has something to do with this abnormal summer heat in Japan.

    — I doubt cooler weather would be any cure.


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