Bay Area JA group condemns anti-Muslim, Arab and refugee rhetoric


Members of the Japanese American community gather in solidarity with Muslim and Arab Americans at a Dec. 22, 2015 press conference at the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco’s Japantown. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly

Members of the Japanese American community gather in solidarity with  Muslim and Arab Americans at a Dec. 22, 2015 press conference at the  	National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco’s  	Japantown. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly
Members of the Japanese American community gather in solidarity with
Muslim and Arab Americans at a Dec. 22, 2015 press conference at the
National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco’s
Japantown. photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly

As anti-Muslim and anti-refugee rhetoric reaches unprecedented levels, the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium held a press conference and candlelight vigil Dec. 22 with leaders of the Muslim community in San Francisco’s Japantown to condemn the statements made by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and others in the wake of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks and Dec. 2 San Bernardino shootings.

Panelists noted the similarities between the rhetoric used against Muslims and Arabs today and the anti-Japanese sentiments, which ultimately resulted in the mass incarceration of more than 110,000 persons of Japanese descent in American concentration camps during World War II.

The Rev. Ronald Kobata, resident minister of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, opened the event with the invocation, reading a statement from the San Francisco Interfaith Council, while the Rev. Michael Yoshii of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church closed with an Arabic song of peace.

Drawing Parallels to World War II
Hiroshi Shimizu, chair of the Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium, moderated the event.

“What is most sobering about the recent statements by Donald Trump regarding the stopping of entry into the U.S. of all Muslims is the increase in his popularity,” Shimizu said.

“Since Dec. 7, when he made his statement, people in his party who favored him as their presidential candidate increased. Those statements incite and exploit the fear and hysteria that exists in those citizens of our country.”

Shimizu, who was born in the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp, said the consortium opposes the blanket discrimination especially aimed at Muslims, citing the consequences of wartime incarceration. The United States, ruling the policy regarding Japanese Americans was driven by race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership, apologized with the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Shimizu noted that the apology was signed by a Republican, President Ronald Reagan.

“We talk about the values of diversity, justice, due process and equal protection. All of those things are being tested now,” Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s elected public defender, said. “Because, remember, the incarceration of Japanese Americans was ‘justified’ by Pearl Harbor. Over 60 percent of Americans polled at that time said, ‘Yes we should intern Japanese Americans,’ and we’re seeing some of the same numbers across the country.”

Adachi called for a united stand against Trump’s suggestions to legalize racial profiling and the refusal of safety for Syrian refugees. “We have to stand together to say ‘no.’ When we hear about acts of vandalism that are happening everyday, even throughout California, we have to stand up and support those who are being victimized,” he said. “Most importantly … we have to remember as Japanese Americans we can never let this happen ever again.”

Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, called for congressional leaders to speak out against the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric.

“We need to have the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Congress and, of course the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus to really lift up their voices, especially at times like this when there is such demonization and fear mongering across this country,” she said. “I would give charge even to Leader (Nancy) Pelosi … to really lead that charge, because we can’t expect other people to speak up when our congressional leaders don’t do so as well.”

Also present were former Japanese American inmates, Hiroshi Kashiwagi and Flora Ninomiya. Ninomiya, a former nursery grower, spoke about her return to her hometown of Richmond, Calif. after the war. Kashiwagi, a noted author and poet, spoke about leaving his hometown to go to the concentration camps: “No one in town came to see us off,” he said. “They were happy to see us go.”

Muslims Speak Out
Yaman Salahi, staff attorney for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, questioned whether the nation had learned anything from the Japanese American experience. He said Korematsu’s Supreme Court case ruled that the policy of wartime incarceration was not racist in 1944.

“We have to keep that in mind today as we hear (political leaders) propose their policies like bars on refugees and claim that that’s to do with security threats and not prejudice,” he said. “Overt bigotry is easy to spot and easy to condemn, but it’s harder, yet more important, and all the more necessary for us to stay together and to say no to government policies that discriminate against people based on who they are and where their ancestors came from.”

Korematsu said that her father’s case is more important now than when it was decided in 1944. It “is a sad thing to say for this country,” she said. Korematsu later added, “obviously we have failed to teach the lessons of history.”

Salahi, who is a Syrian American, spoke of the fear his community is feeling today. “At points, mothers have been afraid to leave their homes to shop for groceries or go to work. Children have been harassed at their schools. Some of our community members have been assaulted or worse. The newspapers, airwaves and television channels are flooded with hateful rhetoric. Our communities do worry about the future and few people feel confident, safe or secure,” he said.

Sameena Usman, government relations coordinator at the Council on American-Islamic Relations San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, said partnering with the Japanese American community will help ensure that what happened in the 1940s is never repeated. “Some people might say, ‘that’s not going to matter. It’s not going to have an effect. It’s just these speakers who like to make controversy,’ but no. This kind of rhetoric does affect people,” she said.

Usman said that as of Dec. 22, attacks on mosques in the United States had tripled, with 29 reported cases that month, including a window being shattered in Alameda, Calif. and a firebombing in Coachella, Calif. The CAIR offices in the Bay Area and in Washington have also both received letters containing fake anthrax.

“This is scary stuff, and what’s scarier is that there are many people who are standing in support of this violence,” she said.

While there is support from allies such as the Japanese American community, Salahi said discriminatory rhetoric and policies continue to gain ground. Congress passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act last November, which singles out Syrian and Iraqis applying to come to the United States as refugees. Usman also pointed out that, even prior to 2015, laws such as the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act’s indefinite detention clause have passed with many politicians remaining silent or supporting them outright.

Samina Sundas, founder and executive director of American Muslim Voice, sent a message to Trump and his supporters. “You are thinking about only one year. One year until the election is over. You are thinking about winning the presidential seat,” she said. “But what you are not thinking about is how it’s going to impact the rest of our lives, our next generations. Your politics of fear, your politics of hate, your politics of division is really tearing up our country. You have no clue what you have done to America.”

In an impassioned speech, Sundas asked to work together with other communities to work toward peace. “If there is a terrorist act, we cry just like you do. It hurts us just like anybody else,” she said. “If there is a terrorist act, we should mourn together, but no, people try to make us feel defensive.”

Sundas asked the public to get to know their neighbors before pushing them away. “Please don’t tolerate me … We tolerate DMV lines,” she said. “Human beings are supposed to be cherished, accepted and included. If we all start practicing our own religion, we will have no problems.”

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