Let me be clear from the start, the internment of 110,000 Japanese American citizens and residents is not exactly the same as the recent effort to stop the construction of mosques in Manhattan and elsewhere in the nation, but it is on the same spectrum, just like bigotry, prejudice and ethic hate are on the same spectrum.
It is one of our nation’s greatest shames that we interred our fellow citizens without any due process and merely because of their ethnicity. In the words of President Regan in the official apology was done in a fit of
"race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership"
"Originally posted at Squarestate.net"
The conditions were shockingly similar to the ones that are driving the Radical Right to insist that a community center two blocks from the Trade Center Plaza (where the Twin Towers used to stand) is somehow a victory terrorists. Let’s try a little experiment, see if you can tell who said the following:
"A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched... So, a Muslim American born of Muslim parents, nurtured upon Muslim traditions, living in a transplanted Islamic atmosphere... notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Muslim, and not an American... Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusion... that such treatment... should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race
Sorry about that, it was a trick question; the real quote substitutes Japanese for Muslim. It was the kind of rhetoric that was printed in a Los Angles Times just prior to the beginning of the internment. Our nation had been attacked and the reaction was to vilify not just the nation who did it, but anyone who was from that nation, regardless of how long they had lived in the United States or held citizenship here.
The hysteria about Japanese citizens being Japanese first and Americans second led us to round up and inter tens of thousands of U.S citizens. There only crime being that they had parents or grandparents who were from the nation that we were at war with. The arguments were long on heat and short on light. There was no evidence, other than bigotry and prejudice that Japanese Americans would be anything other than totally loyal to there nation. Still the heat of that time carried the day and we locked up our citizens on suspicion.
This is the same range of arguments that are being arrayed against Muslim Americans exercising their rights under our Constitution to build new mosques or in the case of NYC a new community center. We are being told that, as a group, Muslims are always going to put their faith first and their nationality second. One can see how those on the Right who value their religion before their citizenship in this nation might find this an easy argument to accept. The problem is conflicts with our system of justice.
For all the argument about religious freedom, this push to prevent the building of new mosques fails on another 1st Amendment test, the guarantee of free association. In this country we only punish actual acts, we do not punish people because of who they are friends with or go to church with. You can be pals with a drug dealer, but as long as you are not helping him or her to sell his drugs or hide the money or any other crime, you are not at risk for your friendship.
The argument that all Muslims are suspect because of the actions of a few thousand world wide is the same as arguing that all Japanese citizens in the 1940’s were a security risk. The fear of the repeat of a horrific attack has sent some folks fleeing to the easiest conclusion, "we can’t trust any of them, ever". It is the height of intellectual laziness to paint with a brush this broad, but the Radical Right has been losing its intellectual credibility for a long time and has returned to the same level of hysteria we had 70 years ago.
What is incredibly sad in all of this is that they have not learned the lesson of put collective guilt on a group for the actions of others in that group. In the end the United States had to pay 1.4 billion in reparations to the surviving internees. We did this not out of the generosity of our hearts, but because we had falsely and preemptively accused them of disloyalty and punished them for it. We should not do the same with our Muslim citizens. Guilty by association is a heinous thing and was anathema to the Framers of our Constitution. They went out of their way to make it clear that you are not responsible for the acts of another, no mater what the relationship. It is for this reason that "Corruption of Blood" is specifically excluded in the Constitution.
Another argument which has been brought forth is that this community center will not really serve the community it will only serve the Muslim community. To this I say, let’s see. If that is indeed the case then the same rule of law that allows the construction of this center will act to prevent discrimination against non-Muslims who want to use the facilities. This is the proper way to use our laws, when an act is committed, then it is punished or reversed, not a preemptive punishment for acts that might or might not ever happen.
There is a lot of talk about how having the right to do something does not make it proper to do it. That is true as far as it goes, but what this argument misses is that the only person who gets to make that call is the person who has the right, not those who think it is the wrong thing to do. The Imam of the mosque building the community center has heard the arguments and has rejected them. This is his and his parishioners choice and they have the right to choose.
It is a right that the majority of us want protected (even if the polls show the majority of the nation thinks it is bad idea to build the community center). Would those among the Religious Right want to be limited in where they could build their churches? Wouldn’t any attempt to point to the religious affiliations of the killers of abortion doctors as a reason to prevent the construction of new churches be met with outraged anger? I would be the among the first to stand up for these groups, since I do not believe in collective guilt and do stand for the Constitution, all of it for all citizens.
Yet this is the argument that Right Wing is making. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association is insisting on a near daily basis that there be a blanket ban on mosque construction in the U.S. Here is a little of his reasoning:
Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero. This is for one simple reason: each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like the quote from the LA Times in the ’40? It does to me. The President has stood up against this type of intolerance and hysterical fear. It is important that all of us do the same. We could ban mosque construction, we could assume that every American Muslim does not really want to live in a free country and supports the institutions that have made it free, history shows that we can do these kinds of things. History also shows that sooner or later we will realize that it was a huge and costly mistake. Why not cut to the chase and do the right thing, the American thing. Let’s let any Muslim group build their mosques and community centers. If they or their members break the law, then lets investigate, prosecute and punish the guilty.
To do anything less it is to betray the ideal of equal justice under the law for all citizens. That is not a betrayal I am willing to countenance.
The floor is yours.
House Keeping: There have been some Radical Right Wingers who have been beating me up for my stand on this issue. They are almost surely reading this, be sure to wave (politely, please) to them in comments.