Bainbridge Island has a sad piece of history that I recently contemplated while visiting the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial not far from my home. This landmark commemorates the 110,000 Japanese Americans who were relocated to interment camps in the United States.
In the hysteria following the Pearl Harbor bombing, Japanese Americans were viewed as potential saboteurs and collaborators against the US. Immediately the FBI compiled a “Custodial Detention Index” tracking Japanese American citizens believed to be dangerous to national security. President Roosevelt then signed an executive order authorizing the internment of all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast.
Japanese Americans Then, Muslim Americans Now
As I stood there, I thought of the parallels between the way we treated Japanese Americans then and our societal attitudes toward Muslim Americans today. Recently I have been speaking to a number of Muslim American groups across the country, and was struck by how many experience a type of racial prejudice that I will never experience, due to their last name and appearance.
If I am pulled over for speeding, I expect to receive a warning or a ticket at most. However, many Muslim Americans fear that they will be asked to step out of the car, patted down, and suspected of being a terrorist. Many who expressed this concern to me are upstanding doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople born in the U.S., not remotely resembling terrorists. As a country we have come a long way; however, we must improve our efforts in striving for tolerance, justice, and equality for all Americans and humanity as a whole.
A few days ago, India’s equivalent of George Clooney, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, was detained for a second time at a U.S. airport for more than two hours. This holdup caused a delay of his appearance at Yale and sparked protests against the U.S. in India.
Times of war may tempt us to skew our perceptions of other cultures, races, and ethnicities. The media constantly bombards us with images and stories meant to invoke a certain way of thinking; something to be mindful of during this period of turmoil between the U.S. and Middle East.
The 9/11 attacks sparked a wave of “Islamaphobia”, hatred and irrational fear of Islamic people. There have been heated threats against Muslim Americans. Numerous mosques have been subject to senseless threats, protests, and acts of violence.
Although a majority of Americans don’t feel this way towards our Muslim brothers and sisters, it is important to remind ourselves that Muslim extremists are a minority – just like Christian extremists. Let’s remember that Muslim American citizens, and Muslims around the world, join us in our pursuit to stop extremist violence. We all look forward to a world of peace, prosperity and hope.