The Washington Post today reports on the work some Japanese American groups are doing to support American Muslims, who are increasingly the objects of widespread fear and suspicion because of their faith. These groups see echoes of the persecution Japanese Americans faced during World War II in the scapegoating and vilification of American Muslims, exemplified by the congressional hearings Rep. Peter King is beginning this week:
Spurred by memories of the World War II-era roundup and internment of 110,000 of their own people, Japanese Americans – especially those on the West Coast – have been among the most vocal and passionate supporters of embattled Muslims. They’ve rallied public support against hate crimes at mosques, signed on to legal briefs opposing the government’s indefinite detention of Muslims, organized cross-cultural trips to the Manzanar internment camp memorial near the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and held “Bridging Communities” workshops in Islamic schools and on college campuses.
Last week, Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-Calif.), who as a child spent several wartime years living behind barbed wire at Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado, denounced King’s hearings as “something similarly sinister.”
“Rep. King’s intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia,” Honda wrote in an op-ed published by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Last November, in the heat of the debate over the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan (aka the “Ground Zero Mosque”), former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spoke [pdf] about the parallel between the prejudice Japanese Americans faced during World War II the demonization that American Muslims are facing today. Stevens, a WWII veteran, recalled a visit to Pearl Harbor in 1994, when he spotted a group of Japanese tourists and had to fight his first reaction, which was that “those people really don’t belong here”:
But then, after a period of reflection, some of those New Yorkers may have had second thoughts, just as I did at the Arizona. The Japanese tourists were not responsible for what some of their countrymen did decades ago; the Muslims planning to build the mosque are not responsible for what an entirely different group of Muslims did on 9/11. Indeed, terrorists like those who killed over 3, 000 Americans -including Catholics , Jews , Protestants, atheists and some of the 600 ,000 Muslims who live in New York -have also killed many more Muslims who disagree with their radical views in other parts of the world. Many of the Muslims who pray in New York mosques may well have come to America to escape the intolerance of radicals like those who dominate the Taliban. Descendants of pilgrims who came to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecutions -as well as those who thereafter joined the American political experiment that those people of faith helped launch -should understand why American Muslims should enjoy the freedom to build their places of worship wherever permitted by local zoning laws.
Our Constitution protects everyone of us from being found guilty of wrongdoing based on the conduct of our associates. Guilt by association is unfair. The monument teaches us that it is also profoundly unwise to draw inferences based on a person’s membership in any association or group without first learning something about the group. Its message is a powerful reminder of the fact that ignorance -that is to say, fear of the unknown -is the source of most invidious prejudice.