Honda Pledges to Work for Equal Treatment of Every American
By Lisette B. Poole
San Jose, CA: Congressman Mike Honda on Tuesday vowed to continue to fight for privacy rights and seek ways to balance the civil rights and liberties of Americans, including Muslim Americans, with national security needs.
“You can count on me,” said the Congressman, a Democratic Party member, who is running for re-election in a district that encompasses all or part of the cities of Cupertino, Fremont, Milpitas, Newark, Santa Clara, San Jose and Sunnyvale. His constituency, also known as Silicon Valley, is heavily populated with Arabs and Muslims and is statistically the only Asian American-majority district in the continental United States.
“ I will continue to work with my colleagues to enact [the End Racial Profiling Act] this important legislation that will ensure the basic respect and equal treatment that is the right of every American,” Honda wrote in exclusive, e-mail interview remarks to Pakistan Link. The wide-ranging interview also dealt with e-mail privacy, and government surveillance.
Ro Khanna, a democratic candidate has criticized Honda as “old school” liberal. The political race between the young patent attorney and the seven-term, civil liberties icon is being watched closely.
Honda’s comments come at a time when the rise of ISIS and its beheading of several Westerners appears to accentuate, yet again, a sentiment of Islamophobia in America. This round has been sparked by political comedian Bill Maher who argued that there is a “connecting tissue” that binds the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims to ISIS.
His off the cuff remarks were criticized by several Muslims including Reza Aslan, a UC professor who wrote in the New York Times that “making a blanket judgment about the world’s second largest religion — is simply bigotry.” That confrontation comes on the heels of a poll illustrating the growing distrust of Arabs and Muslims. The Zogby study which polled 1,110 Americans found that most, 45 percent, hold an “unfavorable view” of Muslims while only 27 percent espouse a “favorable view.”
“With powerful media personalities like Maher perpetuating the notion that Americans should associate the horrible atrocities committed by ISIS with their Muslim-American neighbors, it shouldn’t be surprising if anti-Islamic sentiment continues to grow,” said a commentary in The Nationthe oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States.
Honda is on record for fighting against all forms of discrimination. “ I am an original cosponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act. This legislation represents a comprehensive federal commitment to healing the rift caused by racial profiling and restoring public confidence in the criminal justice system at-large,” he said. “This legislation is designed to enforce the constitutional right to equal protection of the laws by changing the policies and procedures underlying the practice of profiling and prohibiting racial profiling,” he said.
Honda is a third generation Japanese American, who spent much of his early childhood with his family in an internment camp in Colorado during World War II. He is 73.
He played a prominent role in bringing about the end of mosque surveillance in New York City earlier this year. “ Unfortunately, there are many in our country and in our government who want to target people because of the way they look or where they are from. We must always be vigilant to ensure that their civil liberties are preserved,” he wrote.
“For example, the New York Police Department and the Central Intelligence Agency were spying on Muslim Americans, engaging in activities that violated their civil and constitutional rights. I called for an investigation of these actions and repeatedly questioned Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller about them, and I believe that this scrutiny contributed to the disbanding of the NYPD unit in question. Such actions undermine the sanctity of our Constitution and the security of our homeland,” Honda said.
The Zogby report pointed out that a significant number of Americans support the use of profiling by law enforcement against Arab Americans and American Muslims. “Republicans and Democrats show a deep divide on whether or not profiling of these communities by law enforcement is justified. A majority of Democrats (54%) do not find profiling justifiable, while a majority of Republicans (59%) believe it is,” the report said.
Asked about reports that the FBI and NSA targeted, among others, three top American Muslims including a civil rights leader, Honda promised he would continue to question authorities. “As a member of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the FBI, I will question the FBI director about these reports as I have done about similar reports in the past. We must remain vigilant in the protection of our civil liberties, especially in difficult times when it is too easy to justify eroding them in the name of security, and I will continue to be a prominent voice against such overreach and in support of stronger laws to protect privacy,” he said.
(Lisette B. Poole is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay area. She also lectures in journalism at California State University, East Bay)