After the assassination of the former prime minister, members of the Unification Church receive death threats and face bullying at work and school.
by Massimo Introvigné
Article 4 of 7. Read article 1, article 2 and article 3.
If you’ve ever received a death threat (I did), you know it’s no fun. At first you dismiss it as just a bad joke, but then a little voice keeps telling you that the world is full of crazy people and some of them can be dangerous. Every time you hear a suspicious noise at night, in a corner of your mind you wonder if the madman is finally coming for you.
This is the experience of some members of the Unification Church/Federation of the Family in Japan after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Her killer is a man who claims her excessive donations to the Unification Church bankrupted her mother twenty years ago, and he intended to punish Abe for videotaping a event, and sent a message to another, from an organization connected with that Church.
Rather than blaming the perpetrator, and perhaps the high-profile anti-Unification Church campaigns that might have stirred up his feeble spirit, some Japanese lawyers and media judged the victims. They suggested that “cults” such as the Unification Church should be publicly shamed and punished.
In 2011, I was the representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE, of which the United States and Canada are also participating States) for the fight against racism, xenophobia, intolerance religion and discrimination. A significant portion of my portfolio was hate crimes and hate speech.
Not everyone who listens to hate speech against religious minorities commits hate crimes, but some do. In Japan, the hatred spread against the Unification Church has led to death threats against some of its members.
Japanese media articles reporting these incidents gave readers the opportunity to post comments. Some commented adding more death threats. I hope the Japanese police pay attention to these messages. We now know that Abe’s killer began his career as a Unification Church hater by posting slurs and threats on social media. We all know how the story ended.
Hate speech is, by its very nature, pervasive. Once disseminated through the media or the Internet, its effects can no longer be controlled. There are reports of members of the Unification Church in Japan being insulted in the streets, ridiculed in the workplace, bullied in schools, even divorced by their spouses. We can only hope and pray that verbal abuse does not escalate into physical abuse and possibly murder. The fatal effects of hate speech are not just a thing of the past. Every month, if not every week, Ahmadis are killed in Pakistan. They are members of a religious movement targeted by hate speech in the media and in the sermons of preachers of the majority religion.
Hate speech also prepares the ground for discrimination, that is, for laws targeting members of a minority group and making them second-class citizens. This is already the case with the Unification Church in Japan. While donations to religions are tax exempt, as is the case in every democratic country in the world, it is argued that donations to the Unification Church are not given to a “true” religion but to a fraudulent “cult” and should be regarded as consideration paid for the sales and taxed as such.
The Japanese don’t invent anything. France, which has a bizarre official policy against “cults” now hailed as a model by some in Japan, once argued that donations to Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups it included in a list of “cults” were not gifts but payments for goods or services and should be taxed. The European Court of Human Rights did not believe him. He ruled that redefining donations as payments for sales was just a tool used to discriminate against religious groups that French authorities disliked and labeled as “sects”. France had to return taxes that Jehovah’s Witnesses and two other religious movements had already paid, plus legal costs and damages.
Japan is not a party to the European Convention on Human Rights but has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which contains parallel provisions in its Article 18. In an official interpretation called General Comment no. 22, published in 1993, the United Nations stated that “article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions”. The United Nations has warned against “any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established or represent religious minorities who may be the object of hostility from the part of a predominant religious community”.
The way to prevent media intolerance and administrative discrimination against members of the Unification Church in Japan is to form a broad coalition. It should be obvious to everyone that giving authorities the power to decide which religions are good and which are bad or “cults”, and to tax donations to the latter by declaring that they are not genuine donations , threatens all religious groups. It converts the institutions of supposedly secular states into new inquisitions.
Some Japanese media object that the Unification Church is not a religion with “normal” beliefs, but makes bizarre claims about its founder, Reverend Moon. So it’s time for me to go out. I also believe in a religion making lofty claims for its founder. Its name is Christianity. As a Christian, I believe that a Jew executed two thousand years ago as a criminal is still alive today. I also believe he was born of a virgin mother and raised the dead. This is certainly more than members of the Unification Church can claim from Reverend Moon.