Tensions across the Strait of Taiwan grew more tense in late November. Wang Zaixi, vice minister of the Chinese Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, told the English-language daily China Daily "If the Taiwan authorities collude with all splittist forces to openly engage in pro-independence activities and challenge the mainland and the one-China principle, the use of force may become unavoidable." In response, a spokesman for Taiwan's cabinet said, "Taiwan is a democratic country. Only its 23 million people have the right to decide its future and what is best for them. We can't tolerate interference with our internal affairs by any undemocratic country."
Although this is not the first time China has threatened Taiwan with force, Wang did temper his remarks by saying, "The people of Taiwan are our brothers and sisters. We are not willing to meet at the battleground." Nevertheless, this latest news did set off a series of "what ifs" in my mind. What if the Taiwanese people vote to declare independence from China? What if China invades in response? What if the United States intervenes on Taiwan's behalf? A dreadful thought, no doubt, but plausible nonetheless.
What if, in response to a war in China, the United States government decides to detain all those of Chinese descent in America? When I first thought of this ugly possibility, I hate to admit, a brief sense of relief overtook me. Finally, the pressure will be off us Muslims for a change. Finally, there will be a new enemy, I thought. But then that sense of relief quickly became a sense of deep concern, almost horror. What if all persons of Chinese descent were herded into camps? What would we Muslims do?
Technically speaking, the act of detaining an entire ethnic minority in internment camps has never been declared unconstitutional. Korematsu v. United States--the famous Supreme Court case that upheld the internment of Japanese Americans--has not, to my knowledge, been overturned by the Supreme Court. Although many in America have said "never again," what if it did happen again? Some believe that it already has happened again after the attacks of September 11, when over 1000 overwhelmingly Arab and Muslim men were detained, not in concentration camps, but in America's jails and prisons.
Still, the question continues to dog and haunt me: what would Muslims do in such a situation? Would we stand idly by and watch as another horrific injustice is done in the name of "military necessity"? Would we remain silent in order to show our loyalty and patriotism? Would we turn in our fellow Chinese Americans? Would the tremendous pressure that the American Muslim community is currently under lead it to acquiesce to an act wholly antithetical to both Islamic and American values?
I hope and pray not. If, God forbid, such a situation were to occur, we Muslims must be the loudest of all Americans in protest. We must never sit by and watch such a horrible injustice be committed in the name of "military necessity" and "national security." We must stand up for justice, as the Quran commanded us. An injustice against anyone anywhere is and must be an affront to every Muslim everywhere.
I was blessed recently with the opportunity to meet two Americans who were victims of Executive Order #9066, the order to place all of Japanese descent in internment camps. One was a senior in high school at the time, and the other was born while in internment. I sat in sheer awe as the two spoke, and I felt a deep admiration for them. They were speaking out against the actions of the U.S. government in the wake of the September 11 attacks, using their experiences in the camps to forever remind Americans what can happen when the citizenry remains silent in the face of injustice. They are my heroes. My only hope and prayer is that if, God forbid, a similar situation occurs in America, Muslims finally live up to the demands of their faith and stand up for justice, regardless of the victim. Failing to do so would be nothing less than barbaric.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for the Independent Writers Syndicate. He is author of "Why I Love the Ten Commandments," published in the Book Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith (Rodale).
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