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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Inhumane smiles

Rika Kayama

A 3-year-old boy in Tokyo's Ota Ward was beaten to death by a man he was living with in a heartbreaking incident. The man is suspected of repeatedly abusing the child in the name of discipline. According to some news reports, the man, while pointing to the balcony, told the boy to die, laughing.

    While any kind of abuse is inexcusable, what struck me the most about this incident was that the man was laughing while he told the child to die. How could anyone laugh while inflicting suffering on a young child? The psychological state of the man is unimaginable, but I have seen the same kind of laughter a few times before.

    In 2004, it was revealed that American soldiers abused and tortured Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The American personnel involved in the scandal committed acts of torture that dehumanized the prisoners, and yet many of them were smiling while taking pictures with the prisoners they were abusing.

    I sometimes go to so-called hate speech demonstrations where participants march through streets while calling loudly for discrimination against Korean residents in Japan. What I can never understand at such events is that many of the participants appear to be having fun, with smiles on their faces. Some of them wave at passersby, including those who appear to be worried foreign residents, and those protesting the hate-fueled marches, holding signs that say "No racism."

    How can they wear such bright smiles while shouting words of racism and hatred that I hesitate to even mention here? I always feel like my head is about to spin when witnessing the incompatibility between the expressions on the faces of racist demonstrators and the words that come out of their mouths.

    I wonder if humans, when engaging in inhumane acts of abuse, violence or discrimination, just do not know what expression they should be wearing on their faces and end up smiling by default. Or do they reach a point where they feel like they have no choice but to laugh as they cannot stop themselves from acting in ways that go against their conscience or judgment?

    Victims of such abuse, on the other hand, are doubly hurt by the chilling smiles that accompany acts of physical violence and discrimination.

    Either way, there is no smile more ghastly than the smiles seen in these situations. We usually believe that smiles make people happy. But we must not forget that there are smiles that strip people of their humanity.

    Politicians who hold news conferences to discuss scandals they have been implicated in have not shown smiles on such occasions just yet. If these lawmakers start admitting to scandals while laughing them off, we should probably take that as a sign that society as we know it has come to an end. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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