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Opinion Representative King's Hearings: Lessons Forgotten (The Hill's Congress Blog)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Rep. King's hearings: Lessons forgotten
By Floyd Mori and Deepa Iyer - 03/10/11 02:31 PM ET

Today, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) convenes a Congressional hearing on ‘radicalization’ within the American Muslim community. It is crucial for Americans of all races and religions to ensure that our country does not repeat the mistakes of our past.

This past February marked the 69th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 which led to the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans. As Asian Americans – one of us directly affected by the internment, and the other a civil rights advocate addressing the post-September 11 backlash over the past decade – Rep. King’s hearing is a stark reminder of a sad chapter in our country’s history.

As a child, Mori knew he was an American, but the name calling, harassment, and caricatures of the Japanese caused him to question who he was, leading to shame and confusion. Some family members who lost their livelihood and ability to provide for their family battled depression for decades. This raised the lingering question of why a government founded on basic principles of freedom, the very values that attracted people to its shores, would allow bigotry to trump the rule of law and fairness.

Mori’s experiences of alienation resemble the feelings that many South Asians, Arabs, Sikhs and Muslims have felt since September 11, 2001. In fact, the analogy between what happened to the Japanese Americans during World War II and the treatment of South Asian, Arab, Sikh and Muslim Americans in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 is all the more pertinent today.

During the weeks and months following September 11, 2001, hate crimes, harassment and discrimination complaints against South Asian, Arab, Sikh and Muslim Americans rose at schools, restaurants, and workplaces around the country.

In 2002, the federal government required certain male nationals from predominantly Muslim-majority countries to register with authorities; as a result, 14,000 men have been placed in deportation proceedings. Over the past decade, community members have also faced increased profiling at airports and by law enforcement. More recently, the Park 51 community center controversy in Manhattan and the rise of Islamophobic rhetoric by elected officials and those running for office have created a climate of xenophobia and fear. South Asian, Arab, Sikh and Muslim communities have effectively become targets of suspicion, as Japanese Americans were nearly 70 years ago.

Rep. King’s hearings on Muslim ‘radicalization’ are eerily reminiscent of how the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) brought scrutiny to a range of individuals and communities without merit or cause. Instead of a truly objective discussion to improve the national security, these hearings will perpetuate an atmosphere of alienation, suspicion and hate towards certain communities.

Etched in stone at the National Japanese American Memorial in Washington, DC is the reflection of the promise our nation once made to all Americans: “The lessons learned must remain as a grave reminder of what we must not allow to happen again to any group.”

Rep. King’s hearings and the current tide of Islamophobia in our country are a breach of this promise. It is time for all Americans – regardless of race, color, or religious affiliation – to hold ourselves and our elected officials to the standards on which our country was founded.

Floyd Mori is the director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Deepa Iyer is the director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).




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