Interned Americans oppose demonizing American Muslims
Although the youngest who were interned are in their late 60s, Japanese Americans remember what it means to be targeted during wartime because of their nationality.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that all ethnic Japanese along the Pacific Coast be sent to one of 10 isolated internment camps in seven states. Of those imprisoned, 62 percent were second- or third-generation Japanese Americans born in the United States. Most lost their property to the government.
During the chaotic days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Basim Elkarra was passing by an Islamic school in Sacramento when he did a double-take: The windows were covered with thousands of origami cranes - peace symbols that had been created and donated by Japanese Americans.
Amid the anger and suspicions being aimed at Muslims at that time, the show of support "was a powerful symbol that no one will ever forget," said Elkarra, a Muslim American community leader in California.
It was also the beginning of a bond between the two groups that has intensified as House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) prepares to launch a series of controversial hearings Thursday on radical Islam in the United States.
In 1988, Congress approved legislation that apologized and distributed $1.6 billion in reparations, blaming the roundup on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."
It was the memory of the camps that led the Japanese to reach out to their Muslim counterparts, said Kathy Masaoka, a high school teacher who co-chairs the Los Angeles chapter of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress.
"It dawned on us that this is really something that could escalate among Muslims, the same things our parents faced," she said. "They were being scapegoated."
What followed was a candlelight vigil in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo and the "Bridging Communities" program, aimed at educating Muslim and Japanese high school students on diversity. Last year, 40 students participated in five seminars, sharing stories of challenges they face related to race, religion and ethnicity.
"They see clearly that they have similar experiences," said Affad Shaikh, civil rights manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Even though the target group of the discrimination is different, the purpose of that harassment is the same."
Peter King obviously is one who has a strong attraction to provoking fear. That kind of behaviour is socio-pathic and must be stopped.
Next they come for Guambats.