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"Voice of Asia ought to be silenced

Subject: "Voice of Asia ought to be silenced"

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A book review from
January 15,1996


THE VOICE OF ASIA:  Two Leaders Discuss the Coming
by Mahathir Mohammad and Shintaro Ishihara, 
translated by Frank Baldwin. 
Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1995, 159 pp. 2,900 yen
Reviewed by

Seldom does one have the misfortune to come across such a
silly and unrewarding book.  The best that can be said about
this overpriced volume of lightweight essays is that it is
mercifully brief.  Malaysia's prime minister and one of Japan's
more notorious conservative gadflies have teamed up to pen a
book that could serve as useful material for a sequel to the re-
cent movie "Dumb and Dumber."

Two of yesterday's men serve up junk - food history and pop
sociology to support their sweeping harangue concerning the
state of East - West relations.  It boils down to a catalog of
Western (read U.S.) sins and Asian virtues.  It is disappointing
that serious issues and debates are subject to such trivialization.

Regarding Japan's war responsibility, Ishihara assails what he
refers to as "diplomacy by apology" and suggests that the
unexamined past should be buried.  On this point, Mahathir is
in full accord.

Ishihara makes the point that guerrillas are not covered by the
rules of war and thus Japan cannot be blamed for its rampage
through Asia.  Huh?  He then accuses the U.S. of violating
international law by arming Filipino guerrillas fighting against
the Japanese occupying army.

This self-proclaimed voice of Asia asserts that the Pentagon is
trying to stoke anti Japanese sentiments in Asia.

His dismissal of attempts to examine the nature and extent of
Japanese military atrocities in Asia ignores the voices of many
Asians who criticize the collective amnesia cultivated among
Japanese by conservative leaders such as Ishihara.  Does he
mean that the leaders of China and South Korea are stooges of
the U.S. because they object to Japan's distorted public
statements on these nation's shared past?

Both authors have a penchant for sweeping generalizations,
caricature and stereotypes.  It is hard to take a book seriously
which systematically ignores the diversity which is evident in
both Asia and the West.  Instead, an undifferentiated West and
Asia are contrasted in black and white terms to the detriment of

Ishihara demonstrates his profound understanding of
Westerners in characterizing their views on death.  He writes
that they feel no connection to a loved one after the person dies. 
To them the dead are like trash, something to get rid of.  Un-
fortunately, most of his insights about the West are equally

Ishihara's blinkered history allows him to posit that "the
fundamental difference, between us and Westerners is that they
used military and political power to force their culture, dressed
up as 'modernization,' on areas and countries that rejected it."
As is the case in many of his broadsides against the West, he
conveniently overlooks Japan's own checkered past.

It is troubling that there is a considerable audience craving
Ishihara's nationalistic pablum.  There is something more to his
writing than the rambling blather of an eccentric.  I suspect,
however, that many Japanese have the same embarrassed "will
he just shut up" feeling about him that Americans have for Jesse
Helms and the French for Jean Le Pen.

The book jacket engages in the usual propaganda but goes a bit
over the top in suggesting that "The Voice of Asia" is the best
briefing available on "the emerging Asian ethos." The emerging
Asian ethos?  I do not think so many millions have ever been so
poorly served or blithely ignored.

Mahathir is far more sophisticated and without his contributions
the book would truly be pathetic.  However, he also offers
uninsightful comparisons based on misleading stereotypes and
selective history.

He praises Asian tolerance for diversity while deriding the West
for its arrogant self- assurance that it is always right.  Yet he
demonstrates his own intolerance for diverse living styles in
criticizing homosexuals and overlooks stains on Asian's record
of tolerance, including the 1965 bloodletting in Indonesia and
actions of the Khmer Rouge, the Chinese Communist Party,
SLORC, etc.  It also may come as a surprise to many readers
that Asians never discriminate based on the color of a person's
skin.  I suppose that he has had little contact with Tokyo real -
estate agents and is well insulated from daily life.

Mahathir does make a good case for his brainchild, the East
Asian Economic Caucus, arguing that small nations benefit
from unity in dealings with large regional blocs.  However, I do
not agree that the prime reason for Japan not supporting the
concept is due to U.S. arm twisting. 

U.S. opposition is convenient for Japan.  Without such
opposition, Japan would face a tough choice.  It would have to
either openly shirk a regional role, continue to hem and haw or
assume a leading role with all the expectations and limelight
that involves.  While Japanese officials dust off Pan - Asian
rhetoric and try to reassure Malaysia that they would join
EAEC in a heartbeat if not for U.S. intransigence, in reality they
are not willing or inclined to assume an unfamiliar role and the
burdens it would impose.  Had China not stolen the APEC show
with its surprise announcement in Osaka on tariff reductions,
pundits would probably have focused on the cipher like
Japanese approach to leadership.

Mahathir makes a poor case against human rights activists in
arguing that they are merely trying to impose Western values
and norms.  Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi and others have
eloquently argued that democracy, human rights and respect for
individual dignity are consistent with indigenous traditions and

Yesterday's men are still trying to rationalize authoritarianism
in terms of a distorted and self - serving version of "traditional
culture." Traditional culture is not nearly so impoverished nor
repressive.  Asia will be better off if voices such as these grow
fainter in the next century.