Assassination of Shinzo Abe: What is the real weight of the Moon sect in Japan?

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ten days later the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Moon sect is at the center of media attention. According to the first elements of the investigation, the sect would have financially benefited from the mother of the assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, and the latter would have sought revenge.

The Unification Church, also known as the Moon Sect, founded in 1952 by the South Korean Reverend Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012), is a Christian religious group with multiple sectarian excesses. Its founder presents himself as the new messiah, claiming to have had a vision of Jesus Christ at the age of 15, who would have entrusted him with the mission of continuing his work on Earth. Devotees follow the precepts contained in "Divine Principles", a book written by Moon himself, in which he extensively reinterprets the biblical scriptures.

Tetsuya Yamagami's mother, who joined the sect in 1998, had donated the equivalent of around 750 euros to him in three years, before finding himself in situation of over-indebtedness in 2002. This group was also publicized in Japan for having organized in the 1980s and 1990s numerous mass marriages between Koreans and Japanese who did not know each other.

Sectarian aberrations, a neglected social problem in Japan

According to the testimonies of former followers – which are multiplying in the media –, they were strongly encouraged to part with their possessions and to acquire from the representatives of the sect all kinds of objects to ensure their salvation and that of the sect. of their relatives and ancestors.

Even if the sect is established elsewhere, such as in the United States or in South American countries, the income obtained by its Japanese branch, which is in mostly sent to South Korea, would account for more than half of the organization's overall revenue.

According to an association of lawyers opposed to the forced sales of religious objects, during the last ten years 1 people residing in Japan declared having been victims of such sales, which represents an estimated damage of approximately 83 million euros. During a press conference held on July 11, the president of the Japanese branch of the "Family Federation for World Peace and Unification" (new name of the sect since 2015) affirmed that the donations of the members were spontaneous and did not result from an obligation, adding that the "Federation" discouraged indebted members from making donations. The lawyers' association, however, rejected these claims outright and recalled the harmful nature of this sectarian group during a press conference held the next day.

While the authorities regularly warn against scams and household over-indebtedness, gambling addiction and the dangers of certain consumer loans have been the subject of public debate and certain regulations in Japan – in particular thanks to lawyers – sectarian aberrations are the subject of less attention.

Certainly the attacks committed by the Aum sect In the 1990's had been an opportunity for the Japanese public to discover the danger of sectarian movements. A law specifically targeting this organization had even been enacted. Nevertheless, political decision-makers did not seem eager to legislate further on these issues, perhaps because of their delicate articulation with freedom of worship and the presence of the Kōmeitō Buddhist party in the coalition government from 1999.

Some observers consider that the absence of specific legislation is also due to the close links that exist between religious groups and certain political parties.

The ambiguous ties between Moon and the Liberal Democratic Party

The first formulations used in the Japanese media to evoke the motive for the assassination suggested that the link established by the shooter between the sect and the former Prime Minister resulted from a misunderstanding – a position shared by the head of the Japanese branch of The sect. Several elements, however, attest to the existence of this link, even if it goes far beyond the single person of Shinzo Abe.

It was in fact his grandfather and former Prime Minister (1957-1960) Kishi Nobusuke, co-founder of the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) – a conservative party in power since 1955 almost without interruption –, who had woven strong ties with the sect. Its headquarters had even been built in Tokyo on land that had belonged to it. Kishi indeed shared the anti-communist ideology of the sect, which had created in 1968 the "International Federation for the Victory against Communism" (FIVC).

From 1968 to 1972, the honorary president of the Japanese branch was Sasakawa Ryoichi, an ultra-conservative businessman who, like Kishi Nobusuke, had been charged with crimes against peace (class A) under the tokyo trial without finally being judged.

These ties later extended to other important LDP figures, including Abe Shintarō, father of Shinzo Abe. Although their degree of involvement varied, 128 parliamentarians close to the sect and mainly belonging to the PLD appeared on a list published by the weekly shūkan gendai in 1999.

Inheriting these ambiguous links with the sect, Shinzo Abe had sent in 2006, when he was Secretary General of the Cabinet (No. 2 of the government), a telegram of congratulations for a wedding ceremony organized by the "Federation for Peace universal” (FPU), another group created by the sect in 2005. The aforementioned association of lawyers had then address two people open letters to Abe, strongly criticizing this approach and recalling the dangerousness of the organization.

In 2018, this episode was recalled to Parliament by a member of the opposition who reproached a minister of the Abe government, Fukui Teru, for having also sent several messages of this type to the sect. In September 2021, Shinzo Abe – like Donald Trump – appeared in a analysis aired at a UPF event, where he congratulated the organization. This had again been the subject of a open letter from the Bar Association.

Even if the relationship between the PLD and the sect is no longer as strong as it once was, a new list published on July 16, 2022 by the weekly Nikkan Gendai revealed that 112 parliamentarians, almost all from the PLD, maintained links with it. In 2019, this was the case for ten of the twenty members of the Abe government.

Exchange of good practices...

If anti-communism is no longer a unifying cause today, the fact remains that the PLD and the sect come together on many themes, such as opposition to same-sex marriage, attachment to rule of the uniqueness of the surname of married couples or even the will of revise the Constitution (registration in this one of self-defense forces, provisions relating to a state of emergency, or the prevalence of family over individual, Etc.).

On these points, the ideological agenda of the sect is similar to that of Nippon Kaigi, a far-right political and religious organization also close to the PLD and especially to Shinzo Abe. Admittedly, several points may seem inconsistent with the usual positions of the Japanese conservative right (celebration of Christianity, of Korea as the supreme nation, etc.), but this collaboration is above all pragmatic and is based on an “exchange of good practices”.

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First of all, the sect could provide certain parliamentarians with votes useful to their election by encouraging its followers to vote for them (we speak of “organizational voting”). Even today, PLD parliamentarians benefit from this support, as Kitamura Tsuneo in 2013, or Inoue Yoshiyuki in the last elections of July 2022.

Several sources also confirm the fact that many devotees worked for free with elected PLD during election campaigns, or as private parliamentary secretaries (shisetu hisho).

In exchange, the chosen ones had only to send messages of thanks, make a few appearances at events, etc. While the sect provided the PLD with valuable organizational resources, the PLD provided it with important reputational resources – and perhaps assured it of a certain legislative passivity (unlike in France, there is no law against the movements sectarian).

Some observers have underlined the fact that it was commonplace for elected officials to thank different support groups – especially since it is often their parliamentary assistants who take care of it – and it should not be seen as a firm adherence on their part. However, it cannot reasonably be assumed that the elected officials concerned knew nothing of the nature and activities of the sect.

Be that as it may, it is undeniable that their image and their proximity to the sect have been used extensively by the latter with the faithful and the people approached to legitimize themselves and facilitate its fraudulent activities.

This is precisely what the shooter blamed on Shinzo Abe, who was perhaps not the closest politician to the sect, but was certainly the most influential. Thus, the political motive for the assassination was quickly ruled out after the shooter said the former prime minister was not its original target and that he felt no animosity towards him and his politics (he wanted to assassinate sect executives but had not achieved his ends). Nevertheless, this assassination includes in its causes resolutely political elements which deserve to be the subject of a serious debate and disconnected from the criminal aspect of the case.

Arnaud Grivaud, Lecturer, specialist in contemporary Japanese politics, Paris City University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock / JoshuaDaniel

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