Japanese-Americans decry N.Y. lawmaker's Muslim hearings as 'sinister'

During the chaotic days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Basim Elkarra was passing by an Islamic school in Sacramento, Calif., when he did a double take: The windows were covered with thousands of origami paper cranes — peace symbols that had been folded and donated by Japanese-Americans.

Amid the anger and suspicions being aimed at Muslims at that time, the show of support "was a powerful symbol that no one will ever forget," said Elkarra, a Muslim-American community leader in California.

It was also the beginning of an unlikely bond between the two groups that has intensified as House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., prepares to launch a series of controversial hearings Thursday on radical Islam in the United States.

Spurred by memories of the World War II-era roundup and internment of 110,000 of their own people, Japanese-Americans, especially on the West Coast, have been among the most vocal and passionate supporters of embattled Muslims. They've rallied public support against hate crimes at mosques, signed on to legal briefs opposing the indefinite detention of Muslims by the government, organized cross-cultural trips to the Manzanar internment camp memorial in California and held "Bridging Communities" workshops in Islamic schools and on college campuses.

Last week Rep. Michael Honda, D-Calif., 69, who as a child spent several wartime years living behind barbed wire at Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado, denounced King's hearings as "something similarly sinister."

"Rep. King's intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia," Honda wrote in an op-ed published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

King has defended the hearings by arguing that the Muslim-American community has not always cooperated with the FBI and other law enforcement authorities in countering the growth of radical Islam. And he rejects accusations that he is demonizing Muslims and ignoring threats from other extremists.

In an interview on CNN on Sunday, King noted that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder "is not saying he's staying awake at night because of what's coming from antiabortion demonstrators or coming from environmental extremists or from neo-Nazis. It's the radicalization right now in the Muslim community."

But Honda compared King's position to the wartime roundup of Japanese-Americans.

Though the youngest internees are in their late 60s and early 70s, Japanese-Americans remember what it means to be targeted by nationality during wartime.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that all ethnic Japanese along the Pacific Coast be sent to one of 10 internment camps in seven states. 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."

Japanese-Americans decry N.Y. lawmaker's Muslim hearings as 'sinister' 03/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 10:33pm]

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