The following is a letter to the editor of the Korea Times on the killing of a South Korean in Yemen by a jihadist group. Published on June 26, 2009, it is available here.
“The tragic execution of Eom Young-sun reflects the barbarism of binladenist jihadism in the Middle East. But it is both empirically inaccurate and morally grotesque to suggest that her slaying a “reflects South Korea’s rising international status.”
Ms. Eom was murdered with eight others foreigners of various nationalities, suggesting she was a target of opportunity, and not chosen because she was Korean. It is correct that Korea is a US ally, but it is only nominally involved in the war on terror. And Islamic fundamentalism is most worried about theistic competition with other abrahamic monotheisms (Judaism and Christianity) and Hindu polytheism. Korea (despite its growing Christian population) is culturally and geographically quite distant from these concerns. Islamic fundamentalists have shown little interest in religious competition with Buddhism or Confucianism since the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas.
Morally perverse however is spinning a savage execution into a grotesque complement to Korea’s national stature. Small countries like Korea usually lament their low international recognition. This is understandable, as world attention focuses on great powers. This breeds status-craving and weak global self-esteem in wannabes like Spain, Italy, or Turkey, and Jon Huer has aptly made this point about Korea. But reading this homicide as a perverse ‘complement’ suggests not that Korea has “rising status,” but that Koreans crave it so much, they will look for even the flimsiest, most grotesque evidence. This is disappointing.
Korea is a fine place to live – wealthy, liberal, democratic, plural. It is patiently and steadfastly resisting the world’s last and worst stalinist tyranny without sliding into authoritarianism (as Pakistan and East Germany did in their local competitions). This is a huge achievement. That is the root of its prestige; that is what Koreans should take pride in.”
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