I was not going to write about this, but I got a phone call from a journalist in which it was one of the issues that was raised so I responded; I’m pledged to cooperate with students, academics, and journalists (and no, they don’t have to cite me, though they usually do). No thoughts were very preliminary, so I’ve written the following memo for clarification after some googling and contemplation.
First, it is my understanding that Al-Qaeda has relied largely on donors, while ISIS/Islam State is essentially a self-financing organization that includes kidnaping for ransom as part of its modus operandi. That is why Al-Qaeda quickly executed the Japanese man during the post-war insurgency, for show and intimidation.
It is also my understanding is that many European nations do quietly ransom hostages, while America and Israel do not. This difference is the main reason for the different fates of Western hostages of ISIL/IS. The Japanese government has negotiated with terrorists and paid ransom to have hostages released in the past. I am now certain that will do so in the case of Mssrs. Goto and Yukawa, the two Japanese men threatened with execution in 72 hours unless the Japanese government pays ransom. I had some doubts in the beginning, but the chief cabinet secretary stated that the Japanese government would “cooperate with countries concerned to act with the top priority on human life,” which is essentially code for “we will negotiate as required.”
However, I have cause to fear that the attempt will not be successful this time. I do not believe that ISIL/IS expects the Japanese government to pay ransom, much less full the 200 million dollars. Instead, I believe that it is trying to send a political message to the Japanese government in the light of Prime Minister Abe’s high profile visit and the 20 billion yen pledge for humanitarian aid. If it were serious, it would have conducted everything sub rosa, as it appears to have done with the Europeans. Conducted openly, it will be difficult for ISIL/IS to settle for anything less than the outlandish asking price, presumably well beyond its typical asking price.
The Abe administration will also have difficulty meeting the asking price. First, unlike the previous known cases where negotiations have succeeded, the two men did put their lives at significant risk voluntarily, although one of them, a freelance journalist, apparently deserves unqualified sympathy and praise for doing so. Public opinion in Japan has not been kindly to such people, although I hope that they share my sentiments towards the journalist. Second, the ransom would finance the activities of ISIL/IS, which would symbolically and effectively cancel out the 20 billion yen humanitarian aid. But the public nature of the ISIL/IS demand makes it difficult to bargain down the ransom.
Thus, I fear the worst. Never have I hoped as I do now, that I am wrong. Yet I cannot stand the thought that Japanese money will be used to sustain ISIL/IS activities. My only personal consolation is that it is Prime Minster Abe task, not mine, to grasp the horns of this dilemma.