Hostage Situation: The Wrong Reaction

THE days following the Taliban’s capture of 23 South Korean missionaries and the ensuing murder of two have been wrenching, tearful and unexpectedly divisive for the East Asian nation.

Yesterday, reporter Choe Sang-Hun wrote about South Korea’s complex reaction (IHT). He says that many in Seoul question the judgement of the missionaries’ church in allowing them to travel to Afghanistan in such a dangerous time, while others view the situation as an inevitable reaction to Christian arrogance.

Choe reports that some responses to the issue on online forums have been apathetic or cold, with netizens expressing anger at the missionaries for getting themselves into this mess.

While I’ll concede that a high level of naiveté surely played into the creation of this horrific situation, I’m appalled that so many are dehumanizing these people for that reason alone. As my friend JJ and I discussed the issue, he astutely pointed out that it is all too easy for people to type harsh, condemning words – it’s an entirely different thing to confront the human reality. These are people, and we are talking about life and death.

But the netizens are not the only ones at fault. Mainstream Korean media’s voyeuristic photography of the sobbing parents of kidnapped missionaries is also extremely disappointing.

Meanwhile, other Korean citizens are demanding that the U.S. get involved, as Choe reports on today. But I’m inclined to agree with The Metropolitician on this one – pleading for the U.S.’s help only undermines the notion that South Korea is a sovereign and powerful nation; the SK government ought to be able to handle this. Moreover, the protesters’ claims that the U.S. created the danger in Afghanistan is not only irrelevant, but largely inaccurate as well.

This is a grave situation, and the “right” thing to do is unclear. Does Korea reward these terrorists by negotiating with them – does that perpetuate the threat? Or does bringing these people home supersede all of those concerns? If so, how do we bring them home safely? We ought to be coming up with answers instead of bumbling over who’s to blame.

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August 2007