The Heart Mountain resisters refused induction in 1944 as a last-ditch attempt to clarify their status as American citizens and challenge the constitutionality of the American concentration camps in which they were held. With the actions being threatened by a new Administration, a new kind of resistance is now being called for in the 21st century.
It’s only been one week since the election, and an adviser to the President-elect is testing the public’s willingness to go along with creation of a national registry of all Muslims in America — a database whose only useful purpose would be to make it possible to round them all up for some kind of mass action.
Journalist James Omura saw the dangers of mass registration in February 1942, in his testimony to the Congressional Tolan Committee, which was preparing the public for acceptance of the mass exclusion of a feared racial minority perceived as the enemy. “Has the Gestapo come to America?,” he asked.
“This is how it starts,” warns the New York Times. “1942 all over again?” This is what backers of the President-elect have in mind when he talks of going back to the good old days — when they cite the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans as a precedent for a Muslim registry.
Thankfully, there are voices in Congress now that can push back against these dangerous ideas, like that of Congressman Mark Takano.
— Mark Takano (@RepMarkTakano) November 17, 2016
Outgoing Congressman Mike Honda is echoing the cry for the President-elect to denounce the loose talk, in an interview with The New Republic: “This is fear, not courage. This is hate, not policy.”
And the Densho Project in Seattle points out that if people seek a precedent, they need look no further than the government’s apology and monetary compensation for the Constitutional violations of mass eviction and incarceration without charges or hearings:
— Densho (@DenshoProject) November 17, 2016
We as Japanese Americans realize we have a moral obligation to defend others targeted on the basis of race or religion, because we have been the targets before. That living memory of exclusion and incarceration brings with it a moral authority to speak when fear of a minority drives the nation down that road again. So we can be horrified at talk of a Muslim registry, and at the same time not surprised, because we’ve seen all this before.
In May, a different kind of fear brought us together in Seattle for a panel on Connecting the Lessons of History, the fear that the racial mistrust and fomenting of aggression seen in the presidential campaign would become normalized. We could see that regardless of the outcome of the election, meaning after Trump lost, we would have much work to do to repair the rips to the fabric of civil discourse. I never believed we would need to be fighting against authoritarians and demagogues gaining real power in America. But that’s where we are this week.
The resistance at Heart Mountain was a classic of American civil disobedience in the 20th century. The example they set — that is the precedent which should guide us now. This is how it starts.
UPDATE: The BBC World Service called to talk after this post. Click on the image for the program page and drag the slider to the 30:44 mark. On the last question to me about fear for national security, add this thought: That’s what they said after Pearl Harbor. That we can’t tell the sheep from the goats, so lock them all up. But history has shown, and a Congressional commission concluded, that the real reasons for the incarceration were race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. And it’s fear and racial demagoguery that are behind this call for a Muslim registry.