Sixty-six years ago, the U.S. government issued an order to all people of Japanese ancestry. Executive Order 9066 forced 120,000 Americans from their homes and placed them in internment camps across desolate and remote areas in the western United States, including two camps in California. Overnight, Japanese-Americans became the enemy. Families were torn apart, and civil rights were squashed.
“Military necessity” was the official excuse behind the internment of Japanese-Americans. But President Roosevelt’s decree was the result of fear and racism toward Asian immigrants plaguing America long before the Pearl Harbor attack.
Our society is again facing a challenge to its fundamental values. While no internments followed the 9/11 terror attacks, irrational fear of Muslims and Arab-Americans is being fanned by a vocal minority under the guise of national security.
Following the 9/11 attacks, some 1,200 to 1,700 people were taken into custody. In 2002, more than 80,000 individuals from Muslim-majority countries were forced to undergo special registration requirements. In the past several years, American Muslims have been increasingly subjected to unwarranted searches and seizures, detentions, discrimination and even hate crimes.
A Manzanar camp survivor, Jim Matsuoka, recently reminded a gathering of American Muslims that an entire generation can be terrorized into silence while everyone stands by on the sidelines.
On April 26, in solidarity with the Japanese-American community, more than 100 Muslims from California joined some 1,500 participants in the 39th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. The daylong event involved an interfaith memorial service at the Manzanar War Relocation Center.
One program featured a group discussion with former camp survivors, who encouraged participants to stand up for justice and civil liberties.
Now more than ever, it is important for all Americans to remember our history and prevent past injustices from being repeated. If there is any lesson we can learn from Manzanar, it is that we must not remain silent in face of a loss of civil rights and liberties for any person merely based on religion, ethnicity or gender.
Hussam Ayloush is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for the Los Angeles area. He lives in Corona. Craig Ishii is the regional director of Japanese American Citizens League. He lives in Los Angeles.