The ramifications of the internments were enormous. Many in the community lost their homes and businesses and the ability to provide for their families. It took years, in some instances, for families to be reunited. The end result was immeasurable heartache and problems within our families that lingered for decades.
The internment of Japanese Americans is one of the most shameful chapters in our country’s history. Two decades ago, the nation apologized for the grave injustice that was based on hysteria, racism and poor political leadership and not justified by concerns about security.
At the National Japanese American Memorial, these words are carved in stone: “The lessons learned must remain as a grave reminder of what we must not allow to happen again to any group.”
I fear we have forgotten the lessons of that time.
Today’s hearing purports to look at homegrown terrorism. But in reality, it will call the loyalties and beliefs of one community of Americans into question—based on nothing more than race and religion. Just like what occurred 70 years ago.
This very hearing is causing the harm it’s intended to stop. By focusing exclusively on one group—Muslims—as the source for homegrown terrorism, we are threatening American communities. We perpetuate the discrimination and alienation experienced by Muslims. We invite more and more harassment and hate crimes. We provide excuses for biased law enforcement practices. And above all, we harm the American values of equality, diversity and religious freedom.
The effects of this harm are already visible all around us. Unfounded animosity and threats towards Muslims are on the rise. A Brookings Institute poll found that 47 percent of Americans view Islam as at odds with American values. Workplace discrimination against Muslim individuals has increased 150 percent, doubling over the past ten years, and there has been an increase in bullying against Muslim children. The FBI has used its outreach to the Muslim community as a way to gather intelligence. This discomfort towards Muslims is being fueled by anti-Muslim rhetoric spread by military, religious, and political leaders which creates a fertile climate for discrimination.
Today is the seventieth anniversary of the “date which will live in infamy;” a date infamous not only for the lives that were lost, but also for the grave injustices that followed for the Japanese American community. To see that, today, our government is unfairly targeting yet another community based only on race and religion is troubling and thoroughly disheartening.
We cannot and should not let hysteria, racism and poor political leadership take us down the same path we went down 70 years ago. We must not act in ways that sacrifice our most basic American values. We must not single out one community based on race or religion and deny them their civil rights. And we must not endanger the foundations of these communities—their families and houses of worship.
Floyd Mori is the National Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League. The Japanese American Citizens League is the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization in the United States.