Kenji Goto, the freelance journalist taken hostage by ISIS, was reportedly murdered this weekend, and a video released by the terrorist organization claimed that “Japan’s nightmare had begun.” Prime Minister Abe ordered his government to intensify security at home and do all it could to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens abroad. The Prime Minister also announced that, despite ISIS’ threat of retaliation, his country would increase the amount of medical and food aid dedicated to those fleeing from Syria and Iraq.
The release of a video purportedly showing the death of Kenji Goto struck a deep chord in Japan, as it did for all of us across the world hoping that somehow he would emerge alive. But his life became entangled in a complex web of negotiations over the release of another hostage, a Jordanian pilot. In Goto’s third and final appearance alive on video, ISIS demanded the release of a death row prisoner held by Jordan for a suicide bombing in Amman in exchange for a downed pilot from the Jordanian Air Force.
At the onset of the crisis, ISIS demanded a $200 million ransom for the release of Goto and another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa. Then Goto appeared with a photo of Yukawa, murdered. Late last week, Goto’s fate seemed to take a back seat to this high stakes negotiations between ISIS and the Jordanian government, as pressure built for the Jordanians to pull back from their role in the air strikes against the terrorist organization. The Japanese government stated it had no direct contact with ISIS, despite a week-long diplomatic effort to find a channel of communication.
Goto’s fate touched the hearts of many in Japan despite an initial sense that he should not have been in such a dangerous area. Support grew as people in Japan and around the world posted the phrase “I am Kenji” on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.
As a freelance journalist, Kenji Goto covered conflicts in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; and, his work was featured on NHK and other documentary coverage of the world’s conflict zones. Goto’s videos and photos are full of the faces of children who lost their families and their homes in the midst of violent conflict. Similarly, closer to home, Goto turned his camera on the children who lost their families in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He lectured with UNICEF Japan and in schools, advocating that Japanese ensure that these children were not forgotten.
In an interview aired by NHK this morning, Goto himself put it this way: “What we must do is to continue to reach out, in every way possible, to these young lives, to support their hopes for the future.”
As he entered Syria for what would be his last time, Goto took a video of himself, showing his press card and his Japanese passport. In that video, he spoke calmly and clearly as he asked the Japanese people to remember that if anything happened to him it was his own responsibility and not in any way the responsibility of the Syrian people.
Immediately after learning of her son’s apparent murder at the hands of ISIS, Goto’s mother asked that he be remembered as “a kind and courageous man.” His wife today in a written statement spoke not only of her love for her husband and the father of her three children (one of whom is only weeks old), but also of her pride in the work he did for those in need across the world.
Let us today join the Japanese people in honoring Kenji Goto, a compassionate and brave man who believed deeply in speaking for those in brutal conflicts around the globe who need our help.
As a friend and fellow journalist wrote of Kenji, he was “a voice of humanity in the midst of atrocity.”