I’m the chair of the editorial board of Pacific Citizen, the national newspaper of the JACL. Below is my column in the New Year’s issue of the PC. I wanted to post it here and also add even more current concerns given President Trump’s rocky first three weeks, his eyebrow-raising relationships with world leaders (including Japan’s Shinzo Abe, which merits a separate blog post), the currently on-hold Muslim travel ban, and the wild ride of national security issues climaxing — with possibly more climaxes to come — in the resignation of Trump’s National Security Adviser. On top of all the political insanity in a dangerous and shifting world, racism and prejudice still loom large, not just against African Americans, Latinos, Muslims and Jews but also against Asians in America.
The photos at the top are mirror images of anti-Asian ignorance. The first is from a news story today about racist graffiti on the Minneapolis home of a Hmong American family; the other is a very similar message on a Japanese American family’s home 75 years ago. This year we mark the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. We need to think about that document’s impact on America, and hope we don’t make the same mistake today.
Here’s my column:
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The slope just got a little slippery.
Carl Higbie, a former Navy SEAL who’s the spokesman for the Great America PAC supporting Donald Trump, was recently interviewed on Fox News’ “Kelly File.” The president-elect’s transition team is discussing plans for a registry for Muslim immigrants, he said, and there were historical precedents for such a registry including the imprisonment of Japanese in “internment camps.”
“We’ve done it with Iran back a while ago,” Higbie said, and continued, “we did it during World War II with the Japanese.”
To her credit, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly called out Higbie, exclaiming in no uncertain terms, “You can’t be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the president-elect is gonna do!”
This idea isn’t new. It bubbled up last fall during the campaign, when candidate Trump told a TV reporter he supported creating a registry for Muslims, as an addendum to his statement that he would ban immigration of all Muslims. It’s apparently now part of Trump’s plans for “extreme vetting.”
What’s next, requiring Muslims to have ID badges like Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany?
Would Muslims be imprisoned like the 120,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942? That order allowed the U.S. Army to remove anyone of Japanese descent (half of the population was born in the U.S., so they were American citizens) from the West Coast and place them in prison camps surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers, for reasons of military security. Many of these families lost their homes and business and farms.
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NOTE: UPDATE BELOW, ON DEC. 16
Lowe’s this week backed out as an advertiser on the TLC network’s superior reality TV show, “All-American Muslim,” which follows the lives of five Muslim American families in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit that’s home to the largest Mulsim population in the U.S.
I visited Dearborn when I attended the 2011 convention in Detroit of the Asian American Journalists Association and was impressed with the palpable sense of community among the Muslims. We spent time at the Arab American National Museum, and felt the same sense of cultural pride alongside patriotism for accomplishments as Americans that I feel whenever I visit the Japanese American National Museum in LA.
Muslims are misunderstood by a lot of Americans who confuse anyone who’s Muslim with being a terrorist or the enemy we’ve been fighting in parts of the Middle East. That specter of hate also reminds me of Japanese Americans, and the blanket condemnation JAs faced after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, even though many of them were loyal to the United States.
I understand that Lowe’s was concerned because the show became what they called a “lightning rod” for “strong political and societal views” — the words they used on their Facebook page to defend their decision — in the emotional debate over Muslims in America.
Here’s the company’s Facebook post about pulling the ads:
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Here’s a post worth reading and thinking about by Eric Muller at Faculty Lounge, “Representative King’s Investigation and the Ghost of Hearings Past” that notes that NY Rep. Peter King’s hearings on the radicalization of Muslims echoes the experience of history during World War II.
Muller points out the race-based hysteria at the start of World War II, when false reports about Japanese Americans’ involvement in espionage and sabotage against the United States led to an atmosphere of hatred for an entire group of people, and warns that we should be careful not to do the same thing today. Those reports weren’t just propagated by the West Coast Hearst newspapers that had been anti-Japanese (and anti-Chinese) for decades, with their drumbeat of “Yellow Peril” stories.
Even the Washington Post (shown here) reported the lies. (For the record no case of espionage or sabotage during the war by anyone of Japanese descent in the US was proven).
So, kudos to the Washington Post of today for “Rep. Peter King’s Muslim hearings: A key moment in an angry conversation” which looks at how the discussion of Muslims might be affected for the worse by King’s hearings.
We’ve seen other examples of how hatred can be easily stoked by leaders who fan the flames of fear in the name of patriotism: Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee hearings blacklisted suspected Communists including government officials and Hollywood celebrities in a gleeful witch hunt.
Let’s not make the same mistake again. I assume King is holding these hearings out of a genuine, if mistaken, patriotism. But I hope these hearings don’t simply lead to a notching up of the often ignorant extreme ideas some Americans have about Muslims (they’re not all terrorists, people) and a blanket indictment of all Muslim Americans.
(Thanks to Densho for the heads-up.)
(Cross-posted from my Posterous blog)