Peter King’s “Homegrown Terrorism” hearing risks repeating history

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The Anniversary of Pearl Harbor must not be used to suggest that 2011 America faces a religious “enemy within.”  Instead, the anniversary serves as a powerful rationale for an informed, precise and moral approach to combating homegrown terrorism, not hyped-up discrimination.   

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, America declared war on the Empire of Japan and on Japanese Americans.  On Feb 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, my family included, to evacuate the West Coast.  My family and I were soon imprisoned at the Amache internment camp in Colorado.  I was less than a year old.

Men of Japanese ancestry were originally prohibited from enlisting in the armed forces. Despite their willingness to fight for freedom and democracy, countless Japanese-American men were classified “4C” — enemy aliens.  But when the military needed servicemen who could read and write Japanese, 6,000 men, including my father, quickly joined the Military Intelligence Service (MIS).  In 1943, my Dad left Amache to teach Japanese to the Navy Intelligence Service, while his family remained behind barbed wire in an internment camp.

The internment of Japanese Americans was the result of prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.  

We must not repeat the mistakes of the past.  

Yet, this past Veteran’s Day, Rick Womick, a Republican representative in the Tennessee Assembly, declared that Muslims should be purged from the military and that Muslims pray to a false God.  Rep. King has refused comment on the Womick situation.  Today’s hearing is the perfect venue for King to condemn Womick’s words as detrimental to homeland security and antithetical to the American values of religious freedom and regard for ethnic diversity.

Womick’s words, and King’s silence, ignore the expert service of over 4,000 Muslim Americans in today’s military – a record of service that traces back to World War I.  Muslim Americans add a huge value in today’s military.  Since that other day of infamy, September 11, 2001, the military has actively recruited Muslim-Americans - keen to find soldiers, sailors and Marines with linguistic skills and a cultural understanding of strategic communities.   

Womick’s words and King’s silence ignore the sacrifice of Kareem Khan, an Army soldier eulogized by General Colin Powell in 2008.  Kareem was 14 years old on September 11, 2001.  In a response to the terror of that day, Kareem enlisted after graduating high school in 2005.  After two years of decorated service in Iraq, Kareem gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of his nation.

Kareem Khan’s story is a testament to the best our nation can produce.  It is a testament to how American diversity is a foremost strength, not a source of peril.  Rep. King’s previous hearings, however, did nothing to keep our homeland secure and did plenty to stoke prejudice, discrimination and hate. King’s previous hearings made millions of hard-working Muslim Americans the new enemy, with no cause and no crime.

I hope today’s hearing offers something different.  I hope it does not undermine the brave service of Muslim Americans in the military and convince a new generation of budding heroes not to enlist to protect their homeland.

I hope Rep. King understands the lessons of my community’s internment camp experience and of my father’s service in MIS.  I hope King understands the lesson of Kareem Khan’s sacrifice.  That’s how King can best display American leadership, honor American sacrifice, and promote American security.

Honda has represented the 15th Congressional District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives for a decade.  He serves on the House Appropriations and Budget Committees and is Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

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