A time to take a stand

JAN01_2016_CoverBetween calls for banning Muslims from entering the United States to references to the mass incarceration of some 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry in American concentration camps, politicians in recent weeks have evoked a sense of hysteria and fear-mongering that many have likened to that of the World War II-era.

Japanese Americans, who are all too familiar with the consequences of such racist rhetoric, have swiftly and forcefully denounced these xenophobic comments, showing solidarity with Syrian and Iraqi refugees, Muslims and Muslim Americans and South Asians.
U.S. politicians issued multiple racially inflammatory remarks following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and the Dec. 2 attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif.

Roanoke, Va. Mayor David Bowers issued a statement that cited the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian plane and the terrorist attacks in Paris, saying, “I’m reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis is now just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

Citing fears that terrorists posing as Syrian refugees might be admitted into the country, politicians in the House of Representatives introduced and passed a bill calling for refugees from Iraq or Syria to be approved by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence.

Weeks later, on the 74th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump issued a call “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” The real estate mogul and TV personality also said in the statement, “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

The Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling released a survey Dec. 15 that stated that 48 percent of Trump’s supporters in Iowa supported the wartime incarceration of persons of Japanese descent. Only 21 percent of his supporters opposed the decision.

Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA), the sole member of Congress who is a survivor of the wartime incarceration, responded to politicians’ racist rhetoric, saying, “They are perpetuating the messages of hate and fear that fly in the fact of what America stands for in the world,” he said. Honda also said, “The Japanese and Japanese Americans interned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor was an outrage, as was turning away Jews at our borders who were fleeing German persecution. We cannot allow this to happen again and reverse the progress we have made in the last several decades.”

Survivors — and their descendants — of the wartime concentration camps, who know firsthand the implications of the mass denial of an entire community’s constitutional rights due to fear and ignorance, are speaking out against racism, and expressing solidarity with Syrian and Iraqi refugees, Muslims and Muslim Americans and South Asians.

Condemning politicians’ recent racist remarks, Japanese Americans have held various events in solidarity with these victims of xenophobia, much as they did following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

We, as a community, realize our responsibility to address such hysteria head-on, given our past victimization. And so we are compelled to take a stand.

Just two days after the House introduced the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations mobilized to hold a press conference in Sacramento, Calif. Nov. 19 denouncing anti-Syrian and Iraqi comments by elected officials.

Following the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., a cross-cultural group of community members, organized by the Cut the Wire Now Coalition — including the JACL’s Pacific Southwest District, the Council on American Islamic Relations-Los Angeles, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Syrian American Council, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles and the Tuesday Night Project — held the “Vigilant Love: A Solidarity Community Vigil Against Violence and Islamophobia” event Dec. 10 in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo.

More recently, Japanese Americans from the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium held a press conference Dec. 22 in San Francisco’s Japantown to express solidarity with the “Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian American communities.”

In San Jose’s Japantown, the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the ACLU and various Japanese American community members will hold a panel discussion Jan. 12 entitled “Stand up Against Scapegoating and Hate Mongering!”

As we approach the 74th anniversary of the wartime incarceration, the camps’ survivors continue to dwindle. This urgently underscores the need for those who are committed to honoring the legacy of these wartime injustices — with a relentless commitment to advocating for civil rights for all — by ensuring that this history “never again” repeats itself.

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