The Spread of ISIS threat

Recruitment of radical militant Islamic group, ISIS, has been spreading out all over the world. In Japan last month, a university student was investigated as he tried to travel to Syria to join ISIS. It’s said that thousands have already joined the ISIS from outside, including western countries, to fight.

India, which is home to over 180 million Muslims, is not an exception. I began noticing news reports several months ago about young Indian men fighting in Iraq or Syria with ISIS.

A little while ago, I visited Kalyan, a town on the outskirts of Mumbai with population of 1.2 million, which is the hometown of four of these youths who ran away to join ISIS. It was confirmed by their phone calls to the family in July that they were in fact fighting in Iraq.

“Why are you taking pictures? “,“Delete the images!” Because of lots of negative coverage already done by the local media, people in the town were not particularly friendly to me and many questions were thrown at to me while taking pictures on the street.

Typically, it’s assumed that uneducated youth from poor families get brainwashed into joining radical Islamic groups. But the four men from Kalyan were from middle-class and well-educated and included an engineer and the son of a doctor.

The grand ambition of the ISIS, which is to create a new Islamic caliphate across the Middle East, may be a big attraction to naïve young Muslims regardless of their education or social class.

In September, there was a report about two Indian Muslims who were working as ISIS recruiters on the Afghan-Pakistan border and somewhere in the Gulf states. It was revealed after testimonies by eight men who were detained as they were leaving Kolkata and Jaipur to join the group. It’s said that both recruiters used Facebook and Twitter to approach the youths.

The Indian government has been on high alert but it’s not an easy task to block the influence of growing international Islamic militancy in this borderless world connected through the internet. Unfortunately, we may have to see more waves of young people get manipulated and end up being on the desert with a gun.










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Monthly photojournal The Page vol. 17 is up

Monthly photojournal The Page vol 17 is up. This issue’s theme is Afghanistan.


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Bin Laden as a Hero?

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Abbottabad in Pakistan. The town is where U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011.The house has been demolished and only debris remain, like some kind of historical ruins. It’s said that Bin Laden was living in the house for several years before the Americans finally found him. Did the Pakistani government know Bin Laden was staying in the town? Why did the U.S. eliminate any physical evidence of Bin Laden’s death by dumping the corpse in the sea? Many questions still remain, which we probably won’t get answers to for a long time.

After talking to several Pakistani people ranging from farmers to a well-educated student in the city, one thing that struck me was how people have positive sentiments toward Bin Laden. Even westernized upper-middle-class man who tend to be sympathetic to Americans about the 9-11 attacks, labeled Bin Laden as a “rebel”(who stood up against the American empire) rather than a “terrorist.”

Although I try in my thoughts and stance to be as neutral as possible, as a photographer who lived in the U.S for almost 20 years and is still working for the Western media, I have to admit that I’m more influenced by the Western way of thinking. I covered the 9-11 attacks, which killed the father of one of my colleagues and the experience at the rubble-filled ground zero convinced me that Bin Laden was nothing but a twisted, violent terrorist. After 13 years, my thoughts toward Bin Laden still haven’t changed.

But while traveling different parts of the world for the last 20 years, I also have learnt that thoughts change when places change. There is no absolute value or ‘right or wrong’ which applies to everyone. My experience in Pakistan wasn’t an exception. For many Americans, Bin Laden is a cold-blooded terrorist but he can be a hero to Pakistanis or some other parts of the world.

A Palestine journalist who lives in Islamabad told me an interesting story. One night after the 9-11 attacks happened, he was having dinner with an American journalist friend. The American asked him how did he feel when he saw people jumping out of the falling towers. The Palestine answered.

“The same feeling as yours when you see a Palestine killed by Israelis”

What he meant was this – Life has the same value whether it’s an American’s or Palestinian’s but why do you only cry for Americans while supporting Israelis massacring Palestinians?

“The friend seemed quite upset hearing my answer,” the Palestinian said.

The American probably had never tried putting himself in the Palestinian’s shoe until then.

The U.S. has historically manipulated the governments of other countries – Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, to name a few – for America’s benefit. They sometimes tried to overturn governments or supported brutal dictatorships as long as it serves American interests. In recent years, the U.S. seems to have made many enemies in the Islamic countries as it has created a disastrous situation in the region after the failure of its military invasion in Iraq and Afghanistan. It opened up the opportunity for anti-American Islamic fundamentalists to grow drastically. Considering the circumstances, it’s understandable that many Pakistanis think of Bin Laden positively.

In the last weeks, two American journalists were executed in the worst way by the ISIS. No matter what is the reason behind it, these brutal and sick acts are not acceptable and forgiven. But the sad reality is that there are many people applauding on the other side of the world.

What appears to be right changes when the context – religious, ethnic or societal – changes. If people don’t recognize differences and keep opposing the values of others, the cycle of violence and hatred will continue.











ベトナムからニカラグア、サルバドルなど、アメリカは自らの国益のために多くの国の内政に干渉し、政権転覆を謀ったり、ときには独裁者の非道をも支援してきた。そんなアメリカの外交政策に抵抗感を持つ人は少ないないはずだ。近年においてはイラクやアフガニスタンへの理不尽な軍事侵攻の失敗によって、地域を混乱におとしめたことで、多くのイスラム国を敵にまわしてしまった感もある。これは、極端な反米を標榜する過激なイスラム主義者たちが増幅する下地をつくってしまった。こんな背景を考えれば、パキスタン人たちがその教育水準を問わず、 ビン・ラデンを肯定的に捉えているのも理解できる。



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Thoughts on My Exhibition of War

Came back to steamy Delhi last week after spending a couple of weeks in Japan to attend my exhibition at the Canon gallery. It went well (the show is still traveling to three more cities in Japan) and I had good conversations with visitors.

The title of the exhibition was “Message from the Battlefield” and it’s a collection of pictures from conflict zones I’ve photographed in the last 15 years. Unfortunately, I was able to exhibit only 60% of what I wanted to show because of restrictions set by Canon: “No dead bodies and no blood can be shown.” The exhibition was about war so I couldn’t understand how they could impose such a request. Although I didn’t fully agree with the conditions, the opportunity was too good to miss. I compromised by adding a few images which ‘partially’ showing dead body and blood.

This kind of nonsense happens not only with Canon but everywhere in Japan, including by Yahoo! Japan which I have mentioned in this blog before. It’s a reflection of a conservative ‘Don’t rock the boat’ attitude of Japanese corporations. It comes down to the fact that no one wants to take responsibility in case viewers complain.

Because of this reason, most of photo exhibitions in Japan are about non-controversial themes like landscape and animals. Any themes with politics, wars and serious social issues are completely out of favor. One of sad example is the cancellation of a photo exhibition by Nikon gallery in 2012. Nikon suddenly canceled a show about “comfort women” (sexual slaves during the war used by Japanese soldiers) because of pressure from right-wing and anti-immigrant groups.

“We seldom see these kind of pictures in galleries”

As many visitors of my exhibition told me, unfortunately there are very few major galleries that deal with photographs of wars, conflicts and hard news.

Helped by a few newspaper articles, more than 1,200 people visited my exhibition in six days, which was far more than I expected. Although I was able to speak to only a small portion of them in person, it was encouraging to be told by many that they felt these images should be shown more often and in more places.  I realized that controversial images are avoided not because people don’t want to see them but because those who could show them worry too much. They underestimate viewers by assuming that disturbing issues like war and conflict aren’t of interest. They are too scared of offending through shocking images. It’s an act of ‘self-censorship’.

Japan seems to be quickly moving backward toward a dangerous pre-war era of militarism with the recent introduction of a sweeping new law to protect state secrets and moves to expand the overseas military activities of its Self-Defense Forces. At this critical time, self-censorship keeps happening, and we should realize that it’s extinguishing our civil liberties, the public’s right to know, and the opportunity to think freely.















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Keisuke Togawa 面と向かって雑談した一人です。


Manda この記事を読み終わったアメリカの友人は、ha?! でした。


I Refuse to send My Daughter to War

I’m angry and also ashamed of Japanese PM Abe, his cabinet and of ourselves -Japanese citizens. Three days ago, Abe changed the interpretation of our constitution and paved the way for our military to go to fight overseas.

Under our constitution, which was created after the horrific experience of WWII, Japan has been barred form using the military to resolve conflicts except for self-defense. Now, following cabinet approval, our military can be used for “collective self-defense” to participate in wars involving any allies even if there is no immediate threat to Japan.  Pressure from bureaucrats, who blindly follow U.S. requests, and those of the weapons industry, are behind this but Abe has been wanting to militarize Japan for quite some time. The decision became his first big step toward realizing his dream. But I’m wondering how many Japanese realize that Abe’s dream is costing our common people’s future blood and lives?

I understand that those who support Abe’s decision feel threatened by neighboring countries, especially China, which recently accelerated its aggressive claims to expand its territories. But in order to defend Japan, we can just keep our self-defense force as it is and certainly do not need to participate in ‘someone else’s’ war.

As a photographer who has experienced several battlefields, my hatred towards war is not logical but a physical reaction. The sound of constant explosions tearing your eardrums, the smell of rotten bodies, dead infant with their brains scattered, piles of bodies dumped at morgues … all these things get in your body and become unforgettable. No matter what kind of justifications politicians or leaders make, for the people on the ground war just causes nothing but destruction, deaths and hate. War is wrong and evil.

Seventy years since our war ended, I doubt if any incumbent Japanese politician has any experience on battlefield, including Abe. What they are missing is the physical experience of war and empathy. If your body knows how cruel and disgusting the battlefield is, or at least you can imagine it, there’s no way you can make such an easy decision to lead citizens to fight.

What the Japanese government needs is not changing constitution to go to war but enhancing diplomacy skills. As it reflects on a recent series of ‘slips of the tongue’ scandals, the quality of politicians has terribly deteriorated. Many of them seem to be so childish and have no brain for international relations or history. It may be too late for those people but how about to educate them, get help from specialists and scholars, or add more new young blood who has international experience and a broader view? We won’t have to worry about the war if we have a good relationship with neighboring countries. That’s far more important than putting more money on the military budget.

But at the end, it comes down to how we, ordinary people, take action. Like the last general elections with only 50% voting rate, if we remain unconcerned and looking away from the reality, there is no hope. It will be far too late to complain when your son or daughter get drafted and killed on the battlefield on the other side of the world. I have no desire at all to send my daughter to battlefield for those politicians and bureaucrats.

(My exhibition “Message from Battlefield” will be held at Canon Galleries in Japan from July 10 ~. Please stop by if you are interested. )










(お知らせ キャノンギャラリーにて7月10日より個展「紛争地からのメッセージ」開催 興味があればお越し下さい。 )




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