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Japanese Americans: House hearings on radical Islam 'sinister'

Protesters in New York rally ahead of congressional hearings to be led by Republican Rep. Peter King on "Islamic radicalization" in the United States.

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In 1988, Congress approved legislation that apologized and distributed $1.6 billion in reparations, blaming the roundup on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

It was the memory of the camps that led the Japanese to reach out to their Muslim counterparts, said Kathy Masaoka, a high school teacher who co-chairs the Los Angeles chapter of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress.

"It dawned on us that this is really something that could escalate among Muslims, the same things our parents faced," she said. "They were being scapegoated."

What followed was a candlelight vigil in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo and the "Bridging Communities" program, aimed at educating Muslim and Japanese high school students on diversity. Last year, 40 students participated in five seminars, sharing stories of challenges they face related to race, religion and ethnicity.

"They see clearly that they have similar experiences," said Affad Shaikh, civil rights manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Even though the target group of the discrimination is different, the purpose of that harassment is the same."

In Sacramento, CAIR and the Japanese American Citizens League sponsor an annual 350-mile bus trip to the Manzanar internment camp. More than 10,000 Japanese were interned there, an ordeal recounted in "Farewell to Manzanar," the well-known 1983 memoir by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston.

"When we met with the former internees, they told us how they coped," said Elkarra, president of CAIR's Sacramento Valley chapter. "The challenges they faced were a lot more difficult than anything we faced."

Although the alliance between the two groups is rooted on the West Coast, it has also been on display in Washington, where the Japanese American Citizens League is headquartered. The league has worked with Arab American groups about racial profiling, meeting with the Department of Justice to urge officials not to detain people on the basis of race or religion, said Floyd Mori, the league's national executive director.

As King's congressional hearings have drawn near, Japanese American groups have condemned him. Last week, Mori co-authored a commentary with Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, that said the hearings "will do nothing but perpetuate an atmosphere of alienation, suspicion and fear."

Mori plans to send a staff member to the hearing. Honda, too, will be monitoring it, although he has not asked to testify and has not spoken with King about his concerns.

"We just feel very strongly that it does kind of point back to the time when just because we were of Japanese ancestry, people looked upon us with hate and terror," Mori said. "This kind of hearing simply flames that kind of fire today."


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