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Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2004

THE ZEIT GIST

Forensic science fiction

Bad science and racism underpin police policy


We periodically hear from nationalists about Japan's distinctiveness -- how "Japaneseness" is a matter of "race" and "blood," not citizenship or culture. This is usually disregarded as mere unscientific sentiment from fringe elements.

But not, it seems, by the National Police Agency. One of its branches, the National Research Institute of Police Science (NRIPS), in 2001 proposed a policy to create an "index" ("shihyou") of "foreignness" in its forensic crime science.

An attempt to monitor and foil allegedly rampant foreign crime, NRIPS claims it can test minute samples of blood and biota from crime scenes to determine whether the suspect is "foreign" or not.

How? Because, the NRIPS proposal expressly states, Japanese DNA is biologically "different' than that of "foreigners." Never mind that Japan's citizenry has historical traces of Korean, Chinese, Ainu, Ryukyuan, and South American etc. in it, not including the children of 40,000 international marriages per annum and 300,000 naturalized citizens since 1968.

Thus the very concept is faulty: Yes, it may say something about the "racial background" of a suspect. But it cannot incontrovertibly determine if somebody is Japanese. Nevertheless, this policy was approved, and allocated 175 million yen yen ($1.6 million) for "research purposes" and equipment for the period spanning 2002-2006.

Normally, snake-oil science like this should amount to no more than snickers for putting another one over on the taxpayer. But this "foreignness index" is not a harmless white elephant. It may misconstrue data, at the expense of Japan's international minorities. These "false positives" (i.e. results indicating that racially-diverse Japanese suspects are "foreign") could erroneously inflate the "foreign crime rate," further fueling Japan's current scapegoating of non-Japanese as criminals.

But don't take my word for it. This comes from the horse's mouth (translations by the author):

The NRIPS writes: "In (Japan), with the advent of . . . internationalization, there has been a rapid rise in heinous crimes connected to foreigners coming to Japan."

RIGHT from the get-go are the canards and assumptions. Why are "internationalization" and "heinous crimes" so inexorably linked by our bureaucrats in blue? Is an assumption so easily made that more foreigners means a rise in crime?

Of course, logically speaking, more people means more crime -- as there are crooks in any crowd. However, crime rates have risen not just for foreigners, but for Japanese too.

When you factor in that there are more foreigners in Japan nowadays (numbers are rising every year, while the Japanese population has been static), the rises have different implications.

Still, has foreign crime been "rapidly" increasing? Hardly. In many crime categories, rates are significantly lower than the Japanese. Even for crimes classified as "heinous," such as mugging (down 5.4 percent in the first six months of 2003) and breaking-and-entering (likewise down 24.1 percent), it is dropping.

So why focus on the foreigners? Because fear loosens public purse strings and justifies budgetary outlay. It also gives the NPA an excuse for their unprecedentedly low clearance rate (around 20 percent) of crimes, by shifting the blame to hordes of unpredictable foreign culprits.

Something too easily forgotten, when vilifying internationalization, is that many people want foreigners here. Even the government. For example, why are there so many Nikkei Brazilians and Peruvians in Japan? (They are now the second-biggest foreign minority).

Because government policy in the 1990's brought them here -- as cheap labor for major factories like Toyota and Yamaha.

Also, studies by both the U.N. and the Prime Minister's office in 2000 have stressed the need for more immigration to keep Japan's welfare systems afloat in the world's fastest-aging society.

It is not merely counterproductive for the National Police Agency to allege and stress only the negative aspects of internationalization; it is an inaccurate and prejudiced portrayal of social trends.

The NRIPS continues: "With a criminal environment like this, the development of an index giving us a lead on whether or not a crime has been committed by a foreigner or not is being demanded."

BUT who, pray tell, is "demanding" this? What people are "demanding" is crime prevention. Not foreigner prevention.

"Anti-crime" policy pushes are fine, even arguably necessary in present-day Japan. "Anti-foreign" crime pushes alone are not. They miss the target. It is time the NPA and its budgeteers realize that the problem is not so much due to an influx of outsiders, but to years of economic funk contributing to social insecurity and a steady breakdown in social order.

Why else is Japanese crime rising? Are foreigners to blame for that too?

Reality check: The "people" actually demanding this index are the Tokyo governor, the NPA, and the Immigration Bureau, which issued a joint statement in 2003 priming the public for foreign crackdowns.

Back to the NRIPS: "Foreigners have a wide variety of characteristic proteins that are different than Japanese. . . . We will develop an index which reveals, even in minute traces of organic material, special characteristics of foreigners, in order to make heads or tails of things in ways we couldn't before."

FIRST of all, DNA testing is already available in Japan, so even if the claims of Japanese genetic uniqueness were scientifically valid, it would not clearly justify more taxes for overlapping programs.

But they are not valid. Japan's history of immigration and outflow during its Imperial days (between China, Korea, Taiwan, The Philippines, Indochina, the East Indies, Micronesia, etc.), plus postwar migration and marriage, have created more mixed backgrounds than the Census Bureau (which doesn't measure "ethnicity" in Japan) would care to acknowledge.

Thus the police, by assuming that Japanese citizenship is a matter of race, ignore worldwide DNA tracking and human genome work demonstrating that no country is genetically "pure."

Finally, the NRIPS says the policy, quote, "will contribute to making the investigation and clearance of crimes committed by foreigners easier and shorter, and be useful in securing peaceful and safe livelihoods for Japanese citizens."

No it won't.

At best, this "foreignness index" will give incorrect results based upon false presumptions about the Japanese gene pool.

At worst, it may wrongly attribute unsolved crimes to "foreigners" and raise the alleged "foreign crime rate."

This will cause even more tax outlay for similarly bogus schemes, and further undermine the rights and standing of the international community in Japan.

It's time for people to decry this flawed "foreignness index" for what it is -- racism -- since it uses race as an analytical paradigm based on faulty concepts and fallacious attributions. Stop it before it causes further social damage in the name of "science."

Saving 'our' country from 'them'

The NRIPS policy goal: "In our country ("wagakuni"), crimes by foreigners coming to Japan are rising in recent years. This policy aims to swiftly clear heinous crimes which foreigners are thought to have had a hand in.

"Because it will greatly contribute to securing public safety as well as safety in the livelihoods of Japanese citizens ("kokumin"), development of this research will come under the 'Restoration of Livelihoods Program' ("seikatsu ishin puroguramu") in the 'Seven Reforms Program' ("nanatsu no kaikaku puroguramu"), raised within our 'Basic Aims' ("kihon houshin"). It will fall under the goal of 'securing public peace and safety for Japanese citizens ("kokumin"), and securing a society where people can be make a living ("anshin shite kuraseru shakai")."

COMMENT: What's surprising about this vehemently "gaijin-bashing" passage is that it was written not by some rightwing extremists, but by the police.

Leaving aside the canard that foreign crime is rising, it refers to "our country" (doesn't it belong to the foreign residents and taxpayers too?); "kokumin" (don't foreigners also deserve police protection from crime?) and suggests broadly that foreigners are harming Japan by undermining security and the means for citizens to make a living.

Also interesting is the choice of words for the "Seikatsu Ishin" Program. This is the same "ishin" used for the Meiji Restoration ("Meiji Ishin").

"Restore" Japan to its former (foreigner-free?) glory days? That's quite an ambitious policy for some cops holed up in a think tank.



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