Last week, on the 70th Anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Representative Peter King once again sought the spotlight with a congressional hearing claiming to explore ‘homegrown terrorism’s threat to military communities inside the United States.’
My hope was that real American values and vision would drive this week’s hearing, not prejudice, hysteria and a failure of leadership. Rep. King, however, once again failed the American people by failing to offer a comprehensive review of real dangers to our military communities.
King used the anniversary of Pearl Harbor to claim that America faces an imminent threat from a religious ‘enemy within.’ The hearing continued a dangerous trend of using tragic but isolated crimes and unnamed sources to proclaim that one group — Muslims— are the source of all homegrown terrorist threats to the military. Sadly, this line of thinking is a direct parallel to World War II, where conjecture and hyped-up discrimination, dressed-up to look like fact, branded the Japanese American community as an imminent threat to America.
What came next? Executive Order 9066. A 1942 Presidential order that forced more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, my family included, to evacuate the West Coast. My family and I were soon herded like cattle into the Amache internment camp in Colorado. I was less than a year old.
The internment of Japanese Americans was the result of prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Yet, this week, Mr. King made no attempt to recognize the service and sacrifice of Muslim-American service members currently in the military. Instead, King spun two utterly tragic but isolated shootings into an urgent threat posed by Muslim-American service members. Mr. King and his committee consistently used leading questions to pigeon-hole witnesses in an attempt to proclaim that the United States is at war with Islam. Let me be clear, America is not at war with any religion. Any claims to the contrary are morally wrong and counterproductive to our national security.
King once again refused to condemn the words of Rep. Rick Womick of the Tennessee Assembly. This past Veteran’s Day, Womick declared that Muslims should be purged from the military and that Muslims pray to a false God. Womick’s words are detrimental to homeland security and antithetical to the American values of religious freedom and regard for ethnic diversity.
Womick’s words and King’s silence ignore the expert service of over 4,000 Muslim Americans in today’s military – a record of service that traces back to World War I. Muslim Americans are invaluable in today’s military. Since that other day of infamy, September 11, 2001, the military has actively recruited Muslim-Americans - keen to find soldiers, sailors and Marines with linguistic skills and a cultural understanding of strategic communities.
Womick’s words and King’s silence ignore the sacrifice of Kareem Khan, an Army soldier eulogized by General Colin Powell in 2008. Kareem was 14 years old on September 11, 2001. In a response to the terror of that day, Kareem enlisted after graduating high school in 2005. After two years of decorated service in Iraq, Kareem gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of his nation.
Kareem Khan’s story is a testament to the best our nation can produce. In speaking with Mrs. Elsheba Khan, Kareem’s mother, she described in heartwarming detail how following the 9/11 attacks, her son believed it was his duty to serve his country. Kareem wanted to prove that not all Muslims were bad and that just like with any faith, there are fringe elements that can darken a faith’s teachings. She described how above all, Kareem wanted to protect his country and that his faith inspired him to do so. She added that his faith aided, not distracted, in his service in Iraq because of the cultural understanding he had of the situation on the ground. Kareem’s fellow soldiers were not preoccupied with his faith either. They saw him as a trusted fellow American serving his country.
This is how we all should see Kareem.
Kareem Khan’s story is a testament to how American diversity is a foremost strength, not a source of peril. Rep. King’s “Pearl Harbor” hearing does not make our homeland any more secure – to the contrary, it does plenty to stoke prejudice, discrimination and hate. I fear that we are risking an entire new generation of budding heroes who might choose not to enlist to protect their homeland because of the hyped-up discrimination of King’s hearing.
Rep. King fails to understand the lessons of my community’s internment camp experience. He fails to understand the lesson of Kareem Khan’s sacrifice.
Where King fails, the rest of us must succeed. For Kareem. For Mrs. Khan. For the United States of America.
Congressman Michael Honda is Silicon Valley’s Representative. He has represented the 15th Congressional District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives for a decade. In Congress, Rep. Honda is a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees and Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.