We Must Not Treat Muslims as We Treated the Japanese

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We Must Not Treat Muslims as We Treated the Japanese

The terrorist attacks on 9-11 have frequently been analogized to Pearl Harbor. In many ways, the analogy is apt. Just as that attack launched us into World War II, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have launched us into a new kind of war, against terrorism. But waging this sort of borderless war poses great risks, not only to the soldiers commanded to fight but also to core American values. In this way, Pearl Harbor raises other disturbing memories, those of the internment.

Like the recent explosions on the East Coast, the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 12-7, shattered our feeling of national security. How could this have happened? Ordinary individuals, prominent journalists, and government officials soon started pointing the finger at the Japanese in America. Viewing these "Orientals" as incurably foreign, speaking foreign languages, perpetuating foreign cultures, practicing foreign religions (Shinto, Buddhism), American society could not distinguish between the Empire of Japan and Americans of Japanese descent. As General DeWitt, in charge of the Western Defense Command, put it, "A Jap's a Jap." In testimony, he elaborated: "[R]racial affinities are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship have become 'Americanized' the racial strains are undiluted." As government reports rushed to the conclusion that Japanese Americans aided and abetted the attack, the wheels of the internment machinery began turning.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which a...

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...l happen if we make such mistakes today? Consider another analogy with the internment. In Hirabayashi, the Court noted that because American society had discriminated against the Japanese legally, politically, and economically, they had been kept from assimilating and integrating into mainstream society. Exactly right. But then, the Court went on the explain-in an entirely rational but still disturbing way-that therefore the Japanese posed a greater national security risk. This presents a horrible Catch-22: Because America has treated you badly, you have reason to be disloyal; therefore, America has reason to treat you still more badly, by restricting your civil rights. In our public and private response to the horrors of 9-11, will we force another group of Americans into the same impossible situation? I hope that by learning the lessons of 12-7 we will not.
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