Responding to Fear: An Interview with Rep. Mike Honda
With anti-Muslim rhetoric at unprecedented levels this election season, American Muslims are facing the growing consequences of fear. The American Muslim community can learn from the struggles of communities who have gone through this before, most notably the Japanese-American community, which was subjected to internment during World War II. In them, we have an example of a group that showed determination and constructively responded to such an egregious mistake.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA17) is a leader who personally experienced the internment camps, but also used that experience to contribute positively to our nation. MPAC interviewed Rep. Honda to ask for his thoughts on the past and present climates of fear and how our country can move forward:
MPAC : What parallels do you see between the environment of fear that led to the internment of Japanese Americans and the rhetoric we hear today regarding American Muslims?
Rep. Honda : "Our nation widely regards the internment of Japanese-Americans as among the darkest chapters of American history, yet many of our so-called ‘political leaders’ openly proclaim that they would discard these important lessons and have history repeat itself by suggesting that Muslims should face the same type of guilt by association and collective punishment that Japanese-Americans endured. Such dangerous and bigoted rhetoric seeks to score cheap political points by preying upon the same climate of fear, hate and distrust that seized us after the Pearl Harbor attacks and, moreover, highlights a failure of political leadership in our nation."
With six states having just celebrated “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution”, what is it that we can do to honor Mr. Korematsu’s legacy and ensure that history does not repeat itself?
"We must remember and reflect upon the story of Fred Korematsu and the case he brought before the Supreme Court. The decision in Korematsu v. United States was among the worst in the Court’s over 200-year history and was among the greatest blunders in our nation's pursuit of justice for all. It is important to understand that the tribulations of Mr Korematsu highlight the plight of a single American out of an entire population of hundreds of thousands of Americans that were unilaterally subjugated and stripped of their civil liberties. Nonetheless, Fred Korematsu serves as an important reminder of the regression we can subject our society to when we forfeit our values and fall victim to perverted agendas and rhetoric that is rooted in fear, ignorance, and personal gain. As long as we remain vigilant of such pitfalls and keep our unwavering American values at the forefront of our minds, I am confident that our nation will learn from its history and not repeat the failures of our past."
What lessons on patience, advocacy, and perseverance can the American Muslim community gain from the Japanese American community's struggle?
"While our nation that is far from perfect, we must stay true to our foundational American principles that provide us with our greatest strength especially during times of great despair. We are a nation that strives to foster openness, tolerance and equality—notions that are seemingly lost on political leaders that seek to make Muslims second-class citizens. Let us not give into hate and ignorance; rather, we must challenge such divisive ideologies in whatever public forum they appear. Let us be the country of compassion and openness. We are a multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural nation. Our diversity is what gives us courage, and our respect for the Constitution, rule of law and American ideals is what unites us. The divisive hate mongering espoused by a select few moves America backwards and surrenders our future to the mistakes of the past. There are many challenges facing us as Muslims and non-Muslims; we need to stand together to overcome these challenges as fellow Americans."
What advice do you have to youth in your district who want to work towards ensuring civil liberties are protected for all?
"As public leaders, it is our responsibility to pass on the values of community awareness, involvement, and leadership to our youth who have come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Whatever career and life choices our youth make I cannot more strongly stress the importance of being engaged in the national dialogue on so many important topics we are grappling with.
As the future of our nation, it is vital that our youth have a strong say in the direction we head and to not be silenced, disenfranchised, or intimidated by ideas or people that are perceived to be too powerful to challenge. Going out to the polls to vote is not enough. More than ever, we need a diverse set of leaders in public office to reflect the diversity we see in our communities. Our youth must be empowered within our communities with the understanding that one person can truly make a difference, regardless of his or her background, and to never lose focus of the important values and experiences that make up our cultural identities and histories." - MPAC