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January 11, 2003
MY LAW-SCHOOL schoolmate Eric Muller, now a law professor at North Carolina, emails:
I'm surprised to see no blogging today on the guilty plea in the Lackawanna NY case. I think the signficance of this plea is huge, if only because it so starkly distinguishes our situation today from that faced in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. The law reviews are filling up with pieces comparing the Bush administration's policies touching on race and ethnicity with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. (David Cole's, Kevin Johnson's, and Frank Wu's recent pieces come most quickly to mind, but I've seen others.) But the condemnation of the internment always focuses, at least in part, on the irrationality of attributing pro-Japanese sentiment (and subversive action) to American citizens of Japanese ancestry. And we often hear that there was not a single documented incident of pro-Axis subversive activity by an American citizen of Japanese ancestry during the war. (As it happens, this is not quite true, but it's very close to true.)
With this guilty plea (and the alleged conduct of Hamdi and Padilla, I suppose), what was true in 1942 is now false: now we *do* have a documented instance of support for Osama bin Laden by *American citizens*, born in this country and of Arab ancestry. The citizen/alien line--so crucial to the wrongfulness of the Japanese American internment--has now been breached.
Naturally, this is not an argument for the internment of Arab Americans, or, for that matter, for *any* sort of programmatic action against anyone. But I think it ought to undermine the too-easy analogy to the internment that many scholars have been slinging at the administration for the last year or so.
(BTW, I'm spouting about this only because the internment is something I know a lot about. My book on the internment, Free to Die for their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II, came out from U of Chicago Press just after 9/11/01.)
I meant to post on that story yesterday, but the "plogging" video drove that thought (and most others) out of my head. . . . But this seems absolutely right to me. The wrongfulness in the World War Two internments, after all, wasn't that they happened, but that they were unjustified. Had significant numbers of American citizens of Japanese descent actually been working for the enemy, the internments would have been a regrettable necessity rather than an outrageous injustice.
Here's a link to the guilty-plea story.
UPDATE: Reader Douglas Landrum emails:
As a person who worked to support the redress legislation for the Japanese Internment, I think that Professor Muller is right on the mark.
I attended several JACL (Japanese America Citizen's League) meetings at the time of the redress legislation and observed a very different reaction by Japanese Americans from Muslims in the United States. Every JACL meeting commenced with the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge was not recited as an empty gesture either, the Japanese Americans made very clear their allegiance to the United States and their pride in fighting for the United States in every war from WWII on. I listened to Minoru Yasui tell his story about how hard he tried to join his reserve unit as a U.S. Army Reserve second lieutenant but was interned instead. See this link.
This is in stark contrast to many Muslims (not all) who howl about perceived civil rights violations and yet refuse to assimilate American values and culture, treat their wives and daughters as slaves and seek to supplant religious freedom with Islamic tyranny. Where are vocal Muslims denouncing Islamist terrorists and supporting America?
I would also observe that Norm Mineta's random gate searches of airline passengers is based on an overreaction to the injustice of the internment. The circumstances of 9/11 fully justify profiling of males of Arab descent and limiting gate searches to those meeting the profile of people who have actually acted as suicide bombers or suicide hijackers. The guilty plea in Lackawanna further supports the notion that we have fellow travelers in country that meet a specific profile - although Padilla does not meet the profile. Gate searches should be more focused to apprehend or deter the likely perpetrators. Gate searches of Arab men are a far cry from internment camps regardless of the howls of CAIR and lunatic civil liberties groups.
If we have one more big terrorist attack on the United States, we will see public demand for a crack down on Arabic men in the United States. At that time, I will be a voice for a measured and reasonable response to those living here.
I think I should add two points. First, there are American Muslims who are quite loyal -- the Lackawanna Six, after all, were turned in by members of the local Yemeni Muslim community. Other American Muslims have begun to question the role of Saudi money in Muslim institutions in the United States, and the drastic drop in giving to foreign charities by American Muslims who wonder where the money goes is also a good sign. Then there's this guy:
Syed Ali, 35, was working at the Amoco station on Ocean Ave. in Sheepshead Bay at about 4 a.m. when he sold $2 worth of fuel to the alleged would-be arsonist.
The Pakistani immigrant said he watched in disbelief as Sead Jakup, 22, took the canister across the street and began dousing the Young Israel of Kings Bay synagogue.
Ali quickly called 911, and cops arrived before Jakup, a Bosnian Muslim, could set the temple ablaze.
"Mr. Ali saved the shul [synagogue]," said Allen Popper, president of the synagogue. "He's a hero."
But Landrum is certainly right to indicate that the conspicuous shows of patriotism by the Japanese American community in World War II have not been matched by the Arab Muslim community in America. (Though there have been a number of barely-covered pro-war demonstrations by Iraqi-Americans).
Sadly, various taboos mean that this issue isn't getting the examination it deserves from journalists or political leaders. And those who favor extensive profiling should note the photos of Ali -- the hero -- and Jakup -- the alleged terrorist -- and think about which one of the two would be more likely to come in for close attention under most profiling proposals.