On October 10, the Supreme Court will hear two cases contesting President Trump’s Executive Order 13780, which threatens to ban travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries and halt refugee admissions altogether. As the children of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu and Min Yasui point out in an amicus brief filed earlier this week, the government’s defense follows a familiar pattern—pitting immigrants against “real” Americans, raising the specter of a national security crisis, and claiming the courts (and the rest of us peasants) have no right to “second-guess” such important presidential decisions.
That is some bullshit—and not even some new, freshly squeezed bullshit. No, this is the same crusty old cowpie that racist, xenophobic politicians have been kicking around since this country was first founded stolen from Indigenous peoples.
Supporters of WWII incarceration had this to say in 1942: Sending 120,000 Japanese Americans to concentration camps may not be politically correct, but the urgency needed to address the “Japanese problem” overrides any minor inconvenience to these people, who wouldn’t be complaining if they were loyal Americans. Contemporary supporters of racial profiling—and make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is—make basically the same argument: The Muslim Ban may not be politically correct, but the urgency need to address “Islamic extremism” overrides any minor inconvenience to these people, who have no right to complain because they aren’t even true Americans.
I have some words for these people.
First of all, “Islamic extremism” is not the problem here. Yes, there are terrorists claiming Islam who hate you and me and the imperialist, fascist state we call home. There are also terrorists claiming Christianity who hate you and me and the godless, genderfluid wasteland we call home. There are terrorists dropping bombs on Yemeni children in the name of American democracy, and terrorists counting on the apathy of you and me to keep protecting and serving murdering Black people.
Just like deception and fanaticism were not the exclusively Japanese traits that incarceration apologists made them out to be, violent extremism is not unique to the “Muslim World”—which, by the way, is also a made up concept because Islam is global, y’all.
The fact that law enforcement is perfectly capable of confronting white terrorism (also known as Caucasic extremism) without the aid of racial profiling should tell you everything you need to know about what’s really behind the Ban.
The selective internment of German and Italian Americans during World War II (versus the wholesale incarceration of Japanese American citizens and longtime residents) provides an interesting case study here. There were over 1.2 million German immigrants living in the United States in 1940 and another five million with German-born parents. The ethnic Italian population at the time was even bigger, as more than 2.4 million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1901 and 1920 alone. But because the government opted to judge these individuals as, well, individuals, the number of German and Italian American detainees topped out at about 14,500—less than one-tenth of a percent of their total population.
What’s more, the FBI and Naval Intelligence were well aware, in 1941, that Japanese spies actively avoided using Japanese Americans as informants, focusing instead on recruiting whites who would be less likely to attract suspicion. Having conducted extensive (and not always legal) surveillance on Nikkei communities since the early 1930s, the military commanders and White House advisors who fought hardest for “ousting the Japs” during WWII knew full well that there was no evidence to support Executive Order 9066.
On the contrary, the multitudes of data amassed in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor exonerated Japanese Americans of any wrongdoing. But this information was never presented to the public—or the courts, for that matter. In an especially dystopian chapter of American history, the Solicitor General defending wartime “restrictions” on Japanese Americans before the Supreme Court in 1943 actually withheld evidence that contradicted the military necessity excuse. Then, as now, it was prejudice and paranoia, rather than established facts, that determined government policy.
The dog-whistle racism coded into the government’s defense of the Muslim Ban—concern trolling white feminists by tying Islam to gender-based violence, claiming everyone from this geographic region is dangerous because sometimes people who look like them do bad things—is basically the Yellow Peril reincarnated. Asian immigrants arriving in the U.S. in the early twentieth century were met with the same political rhetoric and public outcry, painting them as an insidious and urgent threat to the American Way of Life (lol).
“They refuse to learn English,” people said. “They have too many children. They don’t belong here. They’ll take over if we don’t root them out before it’s too late.” This xenophobic ideology went largely unchallenged, and frequently translated into physical violence against Chinese, Japanese, Filipinx, Indian, and other Asian Americans. Trump’s Islamophobic, anti-immigrant posturing has already created a similar surge in hate crimes, and continues to endanger Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs, South Asians, and other brown folks in America.
It was racism, plain and simple, that colored the “immigration reform” movement that brought us the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Asiatic Barred Zone—and it’s racism, and not much else, behind today’s Muslim Ban.
That alone should be reason enough to end it. But the government’s attempts to defend the indefensible also obscure one monumentally inconvenient truth: the Ban actually does the exact opposite of what it claims. Not only does it add fuel to the dumpster fire of white nationalism that is the real terror threat, antagonizing Muslims reinforces the dangerous idea that the West is at war with Islam–which helps ISIS recruit more angry, disenfranchised young men and creates more of the migration Trump & Co. are so concerned about. Executive Order 13780 is a far greater threat to national security than refugees fleeing a conflict zone.
It’s important (and tiresome AF) to point out that none of this is new. Whether it’s rhetorical fearmongering, racist double standards, or leaning on outright lies when the facts don’t back you up, we’ve been here before. We’ve seen immigrants excluded from this country based on ugly stereotypes and unfounded fears. We’ve seen families divided and degraded by cruel, overreaching executive actions. And we’ve seen what happens when that power goes unchecked.
Not this time. The constitution is there to protect us—all of us—when shit gets hard, not just when it’s convenient. Our civil liberties do not cease to exist because the president says so.
This time we must hold our leaders, and ourselves, accountable to the values we claim to uphold. This time we must be the allies we needed in 1942.
So raise your voice. Get loud, get active, get involved. Heed the lessons of Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui by joining their families’ campaign to #StopRepeatingHistory. Stand up and show up for Muslims and refugees by declaring #NoMuslimBanEver.
Learn how you can stand with those impacted by the Muslim Ban, and find an event near you at NoMuslimBanEver.com.
By Densho Communications Coordinator Nina Wallace
[Header photo: #NoMuslimBan protester at Los Angeles International Airport. Cindy Chu, January 29, 2017.]