Haven't We Seen This Before?

July 8, 2011

The parallel between Japanese internment during World War II and today’s rising Islamophobia is already old news -- but it shouldn’t be, because history insists on repeating itself, and we insist on ignoring it.

During this year's AAPI Heritage Month, the Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal revealed the following in the Department of Justice blog: In 1944, then solicitor general Charles H. Fahy, who defended Japanese Internment in front of the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. The United States, purposely withheld information that would have exonerated Japanese Americans. To justify his support for internment, Fahy relied instead on generalizations that they were inherently “disloyal and motivated by racial solidarity." These lies about Japanese American loyalties and the glaring omission of evidence was a massive fraud perpetrated against the public, resulting in the imprisonment of 100,000 innocent people.

In 2011, too, we are allowing our national narrative to accuse a minority group monolithically of treason, and to normalize it as a valid opinion. We have the blessing of hindsight, yet the people who represent us are again institutionalizing fear. And although the consequences may not seem as severe as the relocation of thousands of people, an intelligence report by the Southern Poverty Law Center and statements by the Justice Department show a rise in anti-Muslim laws, anti-Muslim violence, and the isolation of Muslim individuals around the country.

It’s not just taking place on a fringe we can dismiss anymore. The current of Islamophobia even amongst mainstream politicians is growing stronger, not slackening:

  • This past March, Representative Peter King conducted hearings that sought to root out “home-grown Islamic radicalization” by asserting that Muslim Americans as a whole were not cooperating with law enforcement efforts to combat terrorism.

  • Last April, leaders from both political parties expressed opposition to the construction of the Park51 Muslim community center in Manhattan, citing it as insensitive towards victims of 9/11.

  • Several states have introduced bills to ban Sharia and international law in American courts.

  • On June 13, 2011, a Republican presidential debate allowed prominent political leaders, ones who are vying to represent all of us as a nation, to take the stage and openly claim that Muslims are incapable of loyalty or participation in civic life.

What is most frustrating, is that in doing so they’re creating an underdog fable for themselves, as if their actions are boldly throwing aside political correctness to address an unpopular but dangerous reality. Representative King stated that not to have hearings on the subject of Islamic radicalization would be "a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee [on Homeland Security]."

Yes, terrorist acts have been perpetrated by Muslim Americans here at home -- as well as by Christians, atheists, environmentalists and radicals of every stripe. But the political responses haven't addressed the diverse perpetrators of domestic terrorism. Instead they’ve ignored the fact that the common thread between terrorists is not Islam, but an ideological motivation to place their cause above the laws of this country and the welfare of its citizens through violence and intimidation. If King were truly committed to rooting out radicalization he would have to tackle it in all of its manifestations. After all, if the risk of terrorism was too great for political correctness, then the risk would also be too great to sacrifice thoroughness, regardless of the daunting scope of such an investigation.

The anti-Muslim narrative looks credible because it makes those who scream it seem like they have something to lose by saying something unpopular and brave. Their hysterical arguments have alloyed with the memory of tragic national events, creating a dangerous armor that deflects any criticism by questioning their critics' priorities. Ironically, this martyrdom is imagined, because so far the people telling this story haven’t lost anything. In fact, it’s people who’ve voted against Islamophobic laws in states like Oklahoma who are now coming under fire within constituencies that believe the rhetoric.

Solicitor General Katyal concluded his blog post by emphasizing the importance of candor for leaders who defend the constitution and protect the rights of Americans. Our leaders today who lie to us by perpetuating fear about one minority group are betraying that responsibility. Anti-Muslim leaders aren’t the only ones doing the talking, but their theatrics boast a bigger cast and take up the most space on stage, so they determine the story. The only logical conclusion is that voices committed to truth, and the equally important impassioned appeals to religious freedom and tolerance, are inadequate if they are scarce. So let’s use whatever power we have to urge our elected officials to denounce bigoted policies vocally, and we must support them when they do -- because we cannot afford to be drowned out by the hate.


Priyanka Mantha


Born in Aurora, Colorado, Priyanka Mantha grew weary of the fresh mountain air at the tender age of two and a half, when she urged her family to pack their bags and head for smoggy Los Angeles, California. Today, Priyanka lives in Washington D.C. where she continues to pursue her passion for social justice, writing, and theatre. In the near future, she hopes to commit small acts of mayhem. Immediate projects include releasing lawn gnomes back to their natural habitat. Applications for potential co-conspirators are being accepted on a rolling basis.



I am going to limit my comments to the King hearings because I did watch them live. . It had been clear from the beginning CAIR tried to whip up hysteria over the hearings. King from the beginning said he wasn't going to allow the hearings to be turned into a circus and he did keep tight control. . The hearings were a remarkable contrast to the witch hunts Democrats had when they controlled Congress where witnesses were attacked often and brutally when ever one said something they didn't want to hear (I have watched quite a few hearings on CSpan). . King was polite, allowed all witness to have their say and explain their views and views. There were contrasting opinions and witnesses talked of their experiences. . The 2nd set of hearings the Black Congressional Democrats did their very best to disrupt proceedings and every other word uttered by them was racism (one has to wonder how much money they got from CAIR for their over the top performances). Despite this high schoolish behavior King continued on, key questions were asked by Republicans and some witnesses high lighted the positive good Muslims have done in the prison system.. . King did Muslims a favor by allowing a variety of views expressed, non-CAIR approved Muslims had a chance to express their views on being an American Muslim (after all they are American and should have a right to serve as witnesses). Faults in the prison system were discussed and suggestions for correction of those problems offered. The hearings also revealed the number of Muslims that should be of concern are relatively small. . I will point out how the NY Times colored their coverage From the posted article: . "It was Dr. Jasser who used the cancer analogy; in his testimony, he complained that too often, Muslim leaders counsel Muslims against speaking to law enforcement officials without a lawyer. “The right to have an attorney present when speaking to law enforcement is a specific principle of American civil liberty,” Ms. Sanchez said sharply, adding, “So by what legal principle do you assert that any minority in America should waive that American principle?”" . Dr. Jasser was talking about the conditioning of Muslim youth in such away they would not have relationships with police. Jasser NEVER suggested giving up rights, but he felt youth would benefit by having good relations with policeman and that community problems can be solved in a positive uplifting way built on those personal relationships. . I had seen this exchange unfold and found it remarkable. Then again Sanchez is a remarkable woman, in the way you find a mother that beat her kid for slipping a cookie from the cookie jar just before dinner. . As an aside, the term McCarthyism popped up. It should be noted time has proven Joseph McCarthy right about Communists in government. It should be noted McCarthy tried to keep sensitive material behind closed doors so he would not destroy the careers of people who were innocent. The Democrats badgered him relentlessly over this.
You should tell the complete story of internment, not just the part makes your point. More than 15,000 German and Italian Americans were interned....and don't ignore this fact.
It is well known that 110,000 Japanese Americans were locked in various internment camps around the country during WW2. It is not as well known that 11,000 German Americans and 3,000 Italian Americans shared their fate. Some Jewish refugees also found themselves interned because they were from Germany! When I have spoken of this to people, the question is usually asked about Nazi membership. With a handful of exceptions, the answer was, by and large, no, the people interned had little to do with the Nazi Party. These 14,000 people were immigrants and their American born children who were caught in the type of vise that America would see in the McCarthy era with the Communist Witch Hunts. For example, a business rival would call the FBI and falsely report that a family had a picture of Hitler over their mantle, when the family had no mantle at all. That family was locked up, True story. Large numbers of Italian immigrants and Italian Americans were ENCOURAGED to move off the West Coast with veiled hints that what happened to the Japanese could happen to them. Fort Missoula was a biracial internment camp (Japanese/Italian). There was a family camp in Crystal City Texas that was very multiethnic and multinational. The point that I think needs to be made is that, for whatever reason or reasons, the the depth of the story of the Enemy Alien Internment Program is far deeper than just anti-Japanese sentiment.
Great post! This really touched on so many things that have been bothering me over the last year or so. King's hearings are offensive, and I'm pleased to see the comparison.
"True story. Large numbers of Italian immigrants and Italian Americans were ENCOURAGED to move off the West Coast with veiled hints that what happened to the Japanese could happen to them. Fort Missoula was a biracial internment camp (Japanese/Italian)" . Italians get to enjoy a little extra irony in all this, for America was named after one of their own (Amerigo Vespucci). . I have never researched this and my observations are anecdotal, it does seem many Italian-Americans who served in WW2 were sent off to the Pacific to kill Japanese. . The Japanese -Americans were sent off to Europe to kill Italians. . The irony of being American. I bet it was a hot time in that ole bi-racial camp.
Regarding the Missoula Camp (Japanese/Italian) I never heard of any racial animosity because of the war. Priscilla Wegars has written a book about the mixed race camp in Idaho located by Kooskia Idaho. Imprisoned in Paradise or something like that. I hear that she is working on a book about the Missoula camp. I know several German Americans who were at Crystal City. They said that the Japanese and Germans got along quite well. Women had each other over for tea, baseball games were German vs. Japanese, public lectures that were open to both groups, etc. One German American said that this was largely due to the fact that the guards treated both ethnicities equally. I am trying to get a book published about Crystal City. The only place I ever heard about racial tension was at Fort Lincoln in North Dakota. Some of the internees there were German seamen and some of those were Nazis. I heard that some Jews from Germany might have been sent there. Some Japanese had been transferred from Tule Lake to Fort Lincoln/ I never heard of Japanese and Germans having problems there, but Fort Lincoln is not my specialty. I know some Jews were at Crystal City. There is an excellent article in the New York Times dated 4/1/42 on page 20 or 22 on what it was like for the immigrants from Japan, Germany, and Italy along with minor Axis allies who were not interned. They were labeled Enemy Aliens and they were required to carry FBI issued I.d. They were restricted to within five miles of their homes without permission. They couldn't own guns or shortwave radios. Baseball great Joe DiMaggio's father, an enemy alien, had his fishing boat confiscated. I know a Japanese American from Montana who was not interned. All said and done, over a hundred and fifty thousand people, counting the Latin Americans, were locked up for an extended period and another fifty thousand were locked up for a short period of time, all because they had the wrong ethnicity. That is why I said there was more to it than just anti-Japanese sentiment.
You're reaching. Japanese Americans never really posed any tangible threat to justify internment. Neither do contemporary Muslim Americans. But contextually, they're very different. While I know that the vast majority of Muslim Americans are loyal to this country, you can't pretend that homegrown terrorism and would be terrorists don't exist. Colleen La Rose, Jose Padilla, Mohamed Mohamud, Nidal Hasan, Lakawana Six, John Lindh, Michael Finton, Jeffrey Battle, and the list goes on. Hyperbolic rhetoric from politicians will never cease since it's a platform for them to gain notoriety for their trite purposes. But don't lump the experience of Japanese Americans with Muslim Americans. And don't address Islamophobia while conveniently ignoring homegrown terrorism. You can perfectly capture the causes of Islamophobia and not hijack history in order to make your point.
"There is an excellent article in the New York Times dated 4/1/42 on page 20 or 22 on what it was like for the immigrants from Japan, Germany, and Italy along with minor Axis allies who were not interned. They were labeled Enemy Aliens and they were required to carry FBI issued I.d. They were restricted to within five miles of their homes without permission." . There were a variety of conditions imposed. . The camps are of minor interest to me, something from an era now gone. The continual discussion of them suggests to me a society stalled out and left to talking about the past instead of the great future before it. . I did ponder the situation a little and thought about the genesis of the camps and what made FDR sign the order. . I think it goes back to the turn of the last century. Japan was starting it's rise to a major military power and commencement with empire building. Reports indicated the Japanese played serious hardball and weren't very nice people. . I have not studied foreign policy of 1904 directly, but through other books it appeared both the US State Dept and European powers became concerned over how the Japanese were handling their new found power and a certain lack of trust worthiness they felt about them. . Theodore Roosevelt felt war with Japan was a future certainty and several European powers were confident Japan at some point would go to war with the US. . It is easy to say how wrong the camps were, but one must take into consideration how FDR felt with his political life surrounded by people who never trusted Japan, having a destroyed Pacific fleet on his hands (after a surprise attack ) and a a man sitting across from him at his desk saying, you know Franklin, all that has to happen is just one of these people blow up a munition ship in Seattle harbor and you have a major public relations/security problem on your hand. . I could see why FDR signed Order 9066. . One must keep in mind FDR would have to do the talking to the angry parents of dead serviceman, not the people who came after him with hindsight and judgement. . A modern day example might be FT Hood, where the military knew they had a problem and did little about it.
Although it is easy to find fault or favor with the ideas presented in this article, I believe we should all heed the call to action. Indeed we need to be careful not to act with a dull knife and do more harm in the process of excising the perceived poison. It is open discussion that will reveal and allay our insecurities and reveal our true fears. I believe this is essential to distill the actions that stem from these nuggets of truth. I do understand that sometimes there is that need for fast action. The message I get from the article however, is that with hasty decisions we often use dull knives. I also take warning that is necessary to act considerately, after understanding the real nature of our fears, and thinking through the long term consequences that our hasty actions might precipitate. These are simple but very far-reaching observations that we often overloook while being caught up in the rhetoric... Thank you.
The camps are of minor interest to me, something from an era now gone. The continual discussion of them suggests to me a society stalled out and left to talking about the past instead of the great future before it. LTE you are wrong. This is relevant for several reasons. One. The history of the internment has developed since the Alien and Sedition Act that was passed during the Presidency of John Adams. It was used in Adams; day. It was used in Lincoln's day. He had the state congress of Maryland interned to prevent them from voting to secede during the Civil War. German Americans were interned during WW1. That doesn't even count WW2. We have a long sporadic history of interning people. Two. Those Supreme Court Internment cases are still on the books. Technically, as I understand the law, any lawyers out there please correct me here, the internment is still constitutional. A Supreme Court decision can not be overturned by Congress without a Constitutional Amendment. That has only happened once, (Dred Scott case). The only other way to overturn a Supreme Court decision is to bring a second similar case for a future generation of judges in hopes that they will overturn the previous decision. That is why Bush was careful to use Gitmo to hold the Taliban prisoners. Bush did not want to chance their incarceration would be ruled unconstitutional.

This is a point very well taken-- you are certainly right in saying that the Alien and Sedition acts were passed and used long before Japanese internment, so it wasn't a new concept in 1941, and also correct in saying that that Korematsu was never overturned by the Supreme Court. I can't pretend to know if the Alien and Sedition Acts will be used for a legitimate purpose in the future, but Korematsu itself was a deeply flawed ruling based on racial bias, and not evidence. 

The meat of my argument was meant to address the exploitation of the acts to intern targeted ethnic populations, without evidence of the group as a whole's guilt, or even in spite of evidence exonerating them. This includes the Japanese, Germans, Italians and any others targeted during WW1 and WW2. Moreover, it was meant to indict leaders today who similarly perpetuate fear and loathing of particular groups even when the evidence doesn't support it.

The past is always relevant if it offers us a chance to look at ourselves more closely-- many leaders in state legislatures and on the national stage would do well to remember these darker periods in our history, as well as derive a little sanity from leaders like President Bush who, even if only for a brief moment, did the right thing by urging Americans not to villify all Muslims because of the sins of a few. Thank you for your comment.

"LTE you are wrong. This is relevant for several reasons." . My comment(s) were a reflection of the importance of such actions. On another posting board I indulge in the only subject about the Japanese is the internment camps. You get the idea their sole purpose in America was the get sent off to camps and how every last camp should be preserved (a waste of money to my mind). We should save one and level the rest. . Constant celebration of victimization shows a lack of any forward vision. No society can live in the past. . My post was a brief speculation as to why FDR signed the order despite having assurances by the Navy, FBI and others that the Japanese were not of great concern., I am unaware of any statement about the action directly from him. Most biographies about him seem to cover his economic and later war time policies, but little of his social views. His cousin Theodore Roosevelt has been well covered and from his social view point, if you became an American citizen, well, you were an American period. (He had a personal dislike for hyphened Americans). . German and Italian-Americans proved themselves out by their service in World War 1, so they appeared to be less of a concern. . The internment camps are still legal, part of the broad presidential powers granted by the Constitution during a time of declared war. A variety of cases were argued before the Supreme Court and the court decided such camps were legal. The Supreme Court did say you could not send away someone of known loyalty to the US (Ex parte Endo) without very good reason, that a hearing or trial is required. The process can't been done in a willy nilly fashion. . Since we are talking about Muslims, in a time of declared war if the United States started suffering a broad array of attacks internally caused by Muslim terrorists, the president could round up all questionable people. Known loyal Muslims could be detained briefly for questioning but must be released unless there is good cause to hold them longer. The Court recognizes in time of war it can't be business as usual. . As I understand it, the issue of Bush and Gitmo was one more of a turf battle over who gets a military tribunal trial vs a civilian trial. From my own point of view, anyone who picks up a weapon and uses against even a desk clerk at a local army base should be considered an attack on the military. . Keep in mind the US legal industry is always looking to make a buck. Civilian trials are very costly and lawyers can make some nice money promoting civilian trials. Any justice maybe nothing more than a byproduct of glory seeking lawyers.
Agreed! The comparison to the Japanese during WWII is very appropriate. Stop the drowning!