Japan: Two Degrees from Terror

These days, particularly since the events of 9/11, a latent fear of “terror” has come to lurk in the hearts of many a concerned citizen. In a place like Japan, though, “terror” is still far away, disconnected from the events of everyday life. But how far away are the terrorists, really? How many degrees of separation are there between you and them? Certainly at least a few, most would answer; in the case of a high-ranking public official, no doubt more. And what about an elected cabinet member? Well, no one could be further from the terrorists than that.

But networks are funny things, and they connect people in unexpected ways. This week in Japan, the unexpected nature of networks suddenly dominated the headlines [Ja] when Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio [Ja], only recently appointed to his new cabinet position, revealed in an off-hand comment that a “friend of a friend” of his belonged to the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. Although he later apologized for the statement [Ja], many were not satisfied. While some were calling it the dumbest remark of the month, and others awarded it the “foot in mouth” award, still others were not so gentle in their comments [Ja].

The “degrees of separation” idea, however, was also picked up and discussed by a handful of bloggers in more general terms. Blogger shumpei remarks that:


From the point of view of small world networks seen in SNSs [Social Network Services] such as mixi and so on, through only 6 degrees, i.e. something like a “friend's friend's friend's friend's friend's friend”, you can apparently connect nearly all people of the world. I suppose in the case of politicians, through a “friend of a friend of a friend” you can probably connect nearly all people in Japan. If you look just at a diagram of person-to-person relationships in the entertainment industry, this also is really amazing.

Blogger zarathustra1883 elaborates:



Seems like a case example of the oft-cited “six degrees of separation” [idea] from research in complex networks.

What is called “six degrees of separation” is the hypothesis that nearly everybody in the world is connected to anybody else through [a chain of] six acquaintances, which corresponds to [the expression in] common speech: “It's a small world.”


Well, in this case, there needs to be some verification of the relation of facts, that the situation is as it is said to be, but there is nothing really that strange about this. Because look, you can get from me to Ozawa Ichiro, and to Koizumi Junichiro, through something like a “friend of a friend of a friend”. (Therefore, it's not really that unusual.)

But why did Justice Minister Hatoyama even make the statement in the first place? Blogger amata wonders:


This talk by Justice Minister Hatoyama that “My… friend's … friend's is … Al Qaeda” is just so exquisite that I can't help but laugh, this VTR of his masterful statement.


In the end, what did he want to say? — this question naturally comes up.
Watching the TV broadcast I could not figure this out at all, so I read the newspaper [about it], and apparently it was part of the first half of the statement that: “A friend of a friend, who is involved in the problem [of terrorism], disguises himself by wearing a beard and has managed to enter Japan many times, so I think we need to start taking fingerprints (as a check at the airport).”

Finally, blogger iio at CLASSICA Japan follows the implications of the “friend of a friend” statement to their logical conclusion:


Justice Minister Hatoyama: “Al Qaeda, a friend of a friend.” I earlier wrote about “six degrees of separation,” but according to American sociologist Stanley Milgram, if you [trace a path] from your friend, to your friend's friend … through 6 people, you can connect yourself to anyone in the world. Between [Brazilian soccer player] Ronaldo and I there are 6 people, and I am connected to Nakamura Shunsuke through only 4 people. So even if you are connected to Al Qaeda through a friend of a friend, I don't think that it is something to be particularly surprised about. I mean, it is natural that the Al Qaeda member would be friends with Bin Laden, therefore that the Justice Minister is “a friend of a friend of Al Qaeda” means that it is also logically possible that he is “a friend of a friend of a friend of Bin Laden,” but to make such a declaration would probably create another controversy. If he was grilled about it at the National Diet it would be pretty bad.





“Can we trust a person who is a friend of a friend of a friend of Bin Laden to be in the position of Cabinet Minister?”

“No wait, aren't you a friend of the Minister? In other words, does someone like you, whose friend's friend's friend's friend is Bin Laden, have the rights to pursue?”

“Yes, but if you think that way, then you are also the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of Bin Laden……”

It's this kind of endless loop. No?

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