1942 Style Bigotry Targets Muslims

Category: Americas, Life & Society Topics: Conflicts And War, Hawaii, History, Japanese American Views: 5098

The art of Bigotry

Feb. 19, 1942, was a day that changed the lives of Japanese Americans forever. I was a teenager growing up in Hawaii when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which set into motion the removal and incarceration of more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry in inland concentration camps. 

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a tense atmosphere of suspicion and hysteria engulfed the West Coast and Hawaii. Decades of anti-Japanese and anti-Asian legislation and racism had already laid the foundation for the events that soon took place. We were rounded up without due process even though we had nothing to do with the attack. Our family was shipped to California, then to Arkansas and finally to Wyoming, where we spent the duration of the war.

Upon our release from the camps, Japanese Americans began to pick up the pieces of wrecked lives, in the face of continuing racism and hostility. For years, we suppressed our anger, bitterness and shame about the unfair treatment we got. 

Today, many in the Japanese American community will attend the annual Day of Remembrance events in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities, with the goal of teaching new generations the lessons from that painful time. Some of my fellow Americans are now being targeted because they are Muslim, Arab or Middle Eastern. When the attacks of Sept. 11 happened, I mourned for the innocent lives that were lost. But I also began to identify and sympathize with the innocent Muslim Americans who immediately became victims of the same kind of stereotyping and scapegoating we faced 63 years ago. They too have become targets of suspicion, hate crimes, vandalism and violence, all in the name of patriotism and national security. 

Feb. 19 is a day I do not wish upon anyone else. Now, the lessons are not just about events in a distant past, but events as they are occurring on a daily basis.

Let's not forget the infamous words of Gen. John DeWitt - who was in charge of West Coast defenses - in 1943, "A Jap is a Jap." Or Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who said, "Their racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or even trust the citizen Japanese." How painfully familiar it seemed to see Muslim and Arab Americans suspected and ostracized as potential terrorists solely on the basis of ethnicity and religion.

In the 1970s and '80s, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the Japanese American community fought a 10-year-long campaign and won redress and an apology from the U.S. government in 1988. This was to be the official government acknowledgment that the internment was morally and legally wrong, and we were given hope that such an event would not be repeated.

Yet today there are renewed attacks on civil liberties in the name of the "war on terrorism." Legislation such as the Patriot Act and the government's willingness to arrest and charge innocent people contribute to an atmosphere that could lead to future internment camps. 

Some ideologues on the right seek to rewrite history in order to justify government policy and racial profiling. One example is Michelle Malkin's 2004 book, "In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror," which not only rehashes the untruths that Japanese Americans have heard for years but also asserts: "The most damaging legacy of this apologia and compensation package [redress won by Japanese Americans] has been its impact on national security efforts. The ethnic grievance industry and civil liberties Chicken Littles wield the reparations law like a bludgeon over the War on Terror debate." 

There is no justification for racism or denial of civil liberties - not in 1942 and not in 2005.

Lillian Nakano is a third-generation Japanese American from Hawaii and was active in the redress campaign as a member of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress. She lives in Torrance, California.

  Category: Americas, Life & Society
  Topics: Conflicts And War, Hawaii, History, Japanese American
Views: 5098

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Older Comments:
i must respect this article, coz of brings out the real politics against ISLAM WORLD in the name of irradicating terrorism by American Government. who ever become as president, he has this insight.

Shi-kata kanai. I am a child of Japanese ancestry. My family was stripped of the honor of Samurai class after the war and my grandmother dis-owned for marrying an American Soldier. I am too an American soldier now and I can't but wonder if I would be persecuted for revealing that I am a believer of the one true god. I AM A MUSLIM! Yet I feel like if I told the world how proud I was, I would lose my job as a fighter and my family would have nothing.

All I can do is pray in secret and attend church, which I believe is a lie to begin with. If I was discovered to be a true believer, I would be shunned by the amazingly corrupt system. I hope this all ends peacefully so I can be at peace myself.

Thanks author of article for writing truth, to be witness about injustice in US.

i'd like to hear michelle malkin say the same thing about the billions jewish holocaust victims drew from germany and swiss banks.

these guys have one rule for others and another for themselves. what is also disappointing is that such an article wud never come from a jew who actually suffered discrimination in nazi germany. thus he out of all others surely knows what discrimination means, yet when it comes to similar treatment towards arabs and muslims, the jew is silent. thank god for the japanese. at least they do not harbour resentment towards other races.

yet i must acknowledge the good work done by some jews like gilad atzmon, isreal shamir, natui kartai, jews against zionism and other good and wonderful people who truly believe in judaism but abhor zionists. thank god for those jews who are unfortunately in the minority. may be others will learn to extend a hand of friendship, if not equality, to others and especially their perceived enemies, the arabs and muslims.

likewise, as a muslim arab, we must alsolearn to live with those jews who do extend hand of frienship towards us and need to learn to embrace such friendship.

God in his wisdom created us from the same dna, just as He created night, yet man created darkness.

Great and Timely Article
President Bush is convincingly making his case against Syria, Hezbollah and Iran with no evidence, no proof, and no consideration for the future implications of such actions.

Just as with Iraq and the hidden weapons of mass destruction, the seeds of war are being sown with the possible help of that great democratic nation of Israel and politicians both democrats and republicans are marching blindly in goose step, silently chanting "regime change" and making no fuss to the contrary.

I use to be (not proud) please with the American multi-party political system. But I have come to realize that (although multi-party it is dominated by only two- Republicans and Democrat). - There is only one voice. A Christian voice.

I really hate to sound divisive but when it comes to the problems created in the Middle East the American politician makes no fuss. When injustice or inhuman treatment is directed towards Muslims (Arabs in particular) no fuss is made. Yet America was perplexed and shocked when the trade center buildings were demolished.

What ever happens to us here in America don't expect me to make any fuss about it.

You can feel your way through this one with your eyes close.