Learning from past transgressions

And then there was the hearing on the internment of Japanese Americans in California after Pearl Harbor where we have the testimony of Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Command, who also administered the internment program:

“I don't want any of them (persons of Japanese ancestry) here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty. The west coast contains too many vital installations essential to the defense of the country to allow any Japanese on this coast... The danger of the Japanese was, and is now – if they are permitted to come back – espionage and sabotage. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map. Sabotage and espionage will make problems as long as he is allowed in this area...”

Of course we all know that in 1983 the Congressional Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians issued a report condemning the internment as "unjust and motivated by racism rather than real military necessity.” Subsequently Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush signed legislation providing redress payments to those interned and formally apologizing to the Japanese American victims of the internment.

This committee has the responsibility to investigate threats to our homeland in a manner which enhances our security; not diminish our security. The Muslim-American community has compiled an outstanding record in defense of our nation.  As Denis McDonough the President’s deputy national security advisor has said:

In fact, many of the incidents and arrests that do make headlines are because of the good citizenship and patriotism of Muslim-Americans who noticed something and spoke up. Since the September 11th attacks, a number of individuals inspired by al Qaeda's ideology and involved in supporting or plotting terrorism were stopped, in part, because of the vigilance of members of local communities, including Muslim-Americans.

The prestigious Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security found that nearly a third of thwarted post-9/11 terrorism cases came out of tips from the Muslim-American community.  

I believe this may well be the very first Congressional hearing in which an entire religious community is being investigated as enemies of our nation because of the actions of a few.  This is analogous to suggesting that Christianity is a threat to American children because a few individuals who call themselves Christian are pedophiles.  Proceeding down the path charted by this investigation undermines our national security.

The harm done by promoting the notion that the American Muslim Community poses a threat to our homeland security is very real. In the Chicago area, home to over 400,000 Muslims, anti-Muslim sentiment has greatly affected Muslims in all aspects of their lives, including at their schools, workplaces, mosques, and public places. In particular, there has been increased attention and controversy regarding Muslim communities’ zoning requests for mosques, denial of travel on a surface transportation because of clothing, limited access to community activities, and an electric sign using a racial slur to call for the death of Muslims and African Americans appeared at a business. 

It is incumbent on us, consistent with our responsibilities as Members of Congress, our most basic notions of American values, to learn from the mistakes of past investigations, and to recast this investigation into one exploring the dangers of violent, extremism of all types and firmly eschew all attempts to stereotype groups or religions based on the actions of a few. 

Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) is a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.