The rash of retaliatory actions against Iranians living in the United States has sparked concern in the Japanese-American community here that the country might embark on a course similar to that taken 37 years ago, when Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps in the early days of Word War II.
While unanimous in their condemnation of the occupation of the U.. Embassy in Tehran, leaders of the Bay Area's estimated 25,000 Japanese-Americans fear that Iranians here could become victims of the kind of racial discrimination and suspension of civil rights that befell Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The 120,000-member Japanese-American Citizens League (Jacl) sent a telegram to President Carter last week recommending caution in the government's treatment of Iranians and urging "the American public to address only those individuals who are violators of laws in this nation."
The group also joined the American Civil Liberties Union and several other organizations to protest the government's singling out of Iranians for checks on their immigration status. According to local Aclu officials a suit will be filed Monday in Washington to block what civil libertarians claim is an unconstitutional "selective enforccement" of the immigration laws against the Iranians. Three Iranian students in the nation's capital already have filed a class-action suit on the same grounds.
In a separate action, Yori Wada, a Japanese-American member of the University of California's board of regents, called upon university administrators to protect Iranian students from harrassment by Immigration and Naturalization Service officials and fellow students.
Of particular concern to the Japanese-Americans are recent calls for governmental action against Iranian students in this country, which remind many of them of the anti-Japanese fervor that led in 1942 to President Roosevelt's executive order forcing Americans of Japanese ancestry to relocate in detention camps scattered throughout the nation.
At least 110,000 were incarcerated, despite their demonstrated loyalty to the United States. Many lost most of their personal belongings and were forced to sell their homes and businesses for a small fraction of their market value in the hasty exodust to the camps.
Roosevelt's executive order was finally repealed officially by President Gerald Ford several years ago, but the outcry against Iranians has prompted concern that Carter might issue a similar directive.
"What troubles me is that when President Ford voided the order, people said, "This is to make sure that what happened to the Japanese-Americans won't happen again,"' explains Yoshio Nakashima, a San Francisco dentist and member of the city's planning commission. "The first thing tht came to my mind [in the current crisis] is that it's happened all over."
Nakashima says his family avoided internment during the war by moving to Colorado, where activties were closely watched by the FBI. His father was sent to jail for several months on suspicion of espionage, because he belonged to a Buddhist church. Later, he was released, Nakashima says, and no charges were filed.
"Just because you're an Iranian it's automatically asumed your're sympathetic with the Iranian government," Nakashima says of the current situation. "Guilt by association or guilt by race . . . is not what this country is based on."
Also of concern to some Japanese-Americans is the recent spate of attacks against Iranians and their businesses in this area. Steven Doi, now an attorney in San Francisco, says it was a chilling reminder "of the public's treatment of a Japanese-Americans during the war."
He remembers the "dirty looks" he got from fellow students in his eighth-grade class after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the signs that went up in the local barershop warning of "accidents" that might befall Japanese-American customers.
" the sort of harted toward Iranians, whether U.S. citizens or not, whether pro-shah or anti-shah, is very similar to the feelings against Japanese-Americans then," Doi says. "People didn't care who you were or what you felt. I know exactly how they [the Iranians] are feeling right now."
The Japanese-Americans are quick to add that there are differeces between their plight in 1942 and the situation of the Iranians now. Unlike the families interned during World War II, they say, most Iranians are visiting students and not life-long residents. Another difference, they point out, is that no Japanese or Japanese-Americans living in this country at that time demonstrated in support of Japan.
as a result, Japanese-Americans unanimously support efforts to deport those Iranians who violate the terms of their visas or take part in violent or illegal activities here.
"As long as whatever action is taken is in accordance with the law, we have no problem with that," explains JACL executive director Karl Nobuyuki. "But action against a group solely on the basis of ancestry is something we can't tolerate. That's what happened to us."
"We have to show the Iranians," No buyuki adds, "that we are a much better country than they are."