America has done a great many things that make us feel proud. The U.S. Constitution, for example, serves as a model for the world.
But there are some things that don’t make us proud. One of these happened right here in our own backyard in 1942 with the Puyallup Access Center — also referred to as Camp Harmony — where thousands of Japanese-Americans were interned.
While German-Americans continued to enjoy their constitutional freedoms without hindrance, loyal American citizens of Japanese descent were stripped of their rights; many of them lost their properties and livelihood and continued to face discrimination even after the war.
President Ford pledged that it would “never again be repeated.” This culminated in the Civil Liberties Acts passed under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who provided reparations to the remaining survivors of the internment camps.
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In 2001 some of the camps were made into national landmarks, and congress declared they “stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed and political expediency."
Although they are relatively few, there are some, including Carl Higbie, a spokesman for a pro-Trump PAC, who cite this stain on American history as “legal precedent” for singling out Muslims.
Higbie’s not the first to cite the Japanese internment camps as a potential “solution” for Muslims.
President-elect Donald Trump was questioned last year on whether he would have supported the Japanese internment camps. While saying that he hates the concept, Trump said, “I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer.” Not exactly comforting.
Over the past year and half Trump has called for temporarily banning all Muslim immigration and expressed openness to the idea of creating a registry of Muslims, and Muslim ID Cards. Under tremendous political pressure he has refined these proposals down to something a little less extreme, but not before American Muslims were stigmatized and faced increased harassment and discrimination.
His inflammatory rhetoric has certainly helped ignite an increase in hate crimes, which he has been anything but outspoken against.
The overwhelming majority of American Muslims are law-abiding citizens who love and serve their country just like Japanese-Americans did during WWII. While some extremists happen to be Muslim, some extremists also happen to be white Christians.
American Muslims serve in our military, congress, humanitarian causes and countless other ways. Should these heroes and faithful citizens be subject to discriminatory treatment?
Over the past two months the FBI has thwarted two planned terrorist attacks on mosques in the U.S. by right-wing extremists. Extremism is not limited to any one group, and no group should be singled out for it through discriminatory action just because there is “legal precedent.”
If we want to defeat extremism, then the solution is to unite against this evil instead of creating scapegoats. Not enough Americans stood up as allies to Japanese-Americans in 1942.
If we once again make it acceptable to mistreat any demographic, then we have learned nothing from that horrific decision in American history.
Richard “Rasheed” Reno lives in Puyallup, where he works as an IT professional. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rasheedreno.