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Muslim hearings recall my life in internment camp

16 June 2011 General One Comment Email This Post Email This Post

The Japanese-American Mochida family await relocation to a an internment camp in this photo taken by Dorothea Lange.

Editor’s note: Rep. Michael Honda, D-California, is senior Democratic whip and a member of House Budget and Appropriations Committees.

(CNN) — Who would have thought that my early childhood experience in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II would offer such useful insight, 65 years later, in determining the direction America is headed? In reflecting on this week’s second round of Muslim radicalization hearings, planned by New York Rep. Peter King, I feel as if a mirror is being held up to my life, giving value to lessons learned as a child.

Make no mistake. Growing up in internment Camp Amache in Colorado was no joy ride — just look at the pictures. We were treated like cattle in those camps. Never mind that we were born in America. Never mind that we were patriotic Americans and law-abiding citizens. Never mind that we were constructively contributing to the American economy. Despite all this, hundreds of thousands of Americans suddenly became the enemy at the height of the war, with no cause, no crime, and no constitutional protection.

We look back, as a nation, and we know this was wrong. We look back and know that this was a result of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” We look back and know that an entire ethnicity was said to be, and ultimately considered, the enemy. We know that internment happened because few in Washington were brave enough to say “no.”

We know all this, and yet our country is now, within my lifetime, repeating the same mistakes from our past. The interned 4-year-old in me is crying out for a course correction so that we do not do to others what we did unjustly to countless Japanese-Americans.

Camp Amache, Colorado, where Rep. Honda and his family were sent.

This time, instead of creating an ethnic enemy, Rep. King is creating a religious enemy. Because of prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of Republican leadership, King is targeting the entire Muslim-American community. Similar to my experience, they are become increasingly marginalized and isolated by our policies.

Never mind that many were born in America and have no allegiance to their ancestors’ native homeland. Never mind that they are patriotic Americans and law-abiding citizens. Never mind that they are constructively contributing to the American economy. Regardless of all this, millions of Americans have become the new enemy, with no cause and no crime.

There is no question that a congressional hearing, which targets an entire religion, is morally and strategically wrong-headed. First, it is un-American. This is not the America that I know and have helped build as a lifelong public servant. The America that I know has always provided refuge for those fleeing persecution, from early settlers to recent refugees. The America that I know does not hate and discriminate based on race, religion or creed.

Rep. Michael Honda

Second, it is counterproductive. King is undermining his own objective. In hosting these hearings, King, as chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, has declared, erroneously, that the Muslim-American community does not partner actively enough to prevent acts of violence — or in the case of prisons, extremism. Despite the offensive and fallacious nature of King’s concern, given extensive evidence that contradicts his claim, the Homeland Security chairman’s strategy makes future partnerships unpalatable.

In one fell swoop of his discriminatory brush, King, in his apparent attempt to root out radicalization, marginalizes an entire American minority group, making enemies of them all. To add insult to injury, King has quipped (again, speciously) that America has too many mosques and that extremists run 80 percent of them. We can only hope that Rep. King does not completely undermine all the goodwill established across this country between Muslim Americans and law enforcement officials. You can be certain that few will want to work with King going forward.

Michael Honda on the day his family was released.

Don’t get me wrong. I support the Homeland Security Committee examining “radicalization” in this country, and in our prisons, provided it is a comprehensive review, not a discriminatory one that targets only one subgroup of America. I support the committee examining “violent extremism” in this country, including an examination of militias and the 30,000-plus gun-related deaths that happen each year. I support a committee chair that is keen to keep our homeland secure.

This is not the case with King. These hearings do little to keep our country secure and do plenty to increase prejudice, discrimination and hate. I thought we learned a lesson or two from my internment camp experience in Colorado. I hope I am not proven wrong.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Michael Honda.

Original post: Muslim hearings recall my life in internment camp

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One Comment »

  1. I live on Bainbridge Island, WA where many of the first internment victims were first deported from in the rabid run up to ‘protect our country.’ We have a program to educate our children about the phobic behaviors of our leadership and the bigotry against our own citizens called ‘Leaving Our Island.’ It is taught to our middle schoolers and supported by the entire community with a few exceptions, namely the two resident Tea Party members who reside here. They were so ‘outraged’ that the children were smart enough to make the connection to the anti-Muslim actions of some in our country that they sent around scathing emails, videos, and letters to the editor about the ‘spies’ that lived here during WWII. They planned to stage a protest on campus during a passionate presentation from one of our senior citizen survivors of internment. The island police were contacted and a restraining order was placed against the gentleman, James M. Olsen to keep him off campus. This was more than 6 years ago. To this day he maligns the Japanese Americans on our island, calls the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial “agitprop” and a “boondoggle”. It is quite distressing for those of us on island who want to preserve its rich and storied ethnically diverse history to have to continually face Mr. Olsen the perennial candidate for public office. As recently as yesterday he made public comment that attacks the man who is working tirelessly to complete the memorial and to rationalize the anti-JA actions of our government. His comments follow this article from Collin Tong along with a link to Olsen’s hideous revisionist website: http://www.iexaminer.org/news/history-japanese-american-strawberry/#comment-227012807

    I hope that you will keep your eye on Mr. James Mark Olsen. His odious platform is one that is divisive and damaging to real democracy in our country.
    Thanks,
    Shannon Evans
    Bainbridge Island, WA

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