Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) was an infant in 1942 when he and his family were forcibly removed from their home and put into Amache, a so-called internment camp in Colorado. There, they lived for three years behind barbed wire fences and under the watch of armed guards.
Their crime? Being Japanese-American. Honda was among some 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry incarcerated during World War II, the majority of whom were either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
Now, in 2016, Honda says it’s not a far-fetched concern that what happened to him and his family “could happen again” — only this time to Muslim Americans. It could happen, he said, if lawmakers aren’t “vigilant” and “don’t recognize the symptoms.”
“The symptoms for [Japanese-Americans] were racial bigotry, war hysteria and the failure of political leadership,” Honda told The Huffington Post recently.
It’s why in December, he and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced House Resolution 569. The resolution “denounces in the strongest terms the increase of hate speech, intimidation, violence, vandalism, arson, and other hate crimes targeted against mosques, Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslim.”
It also “reaffirms the inalienable right of every citizen to live without fear and intimidation, and to practice their freedom of faith.”
His support for the measure, Honda said, is part of his “obligation to point out the ill-thought rhetoric that could endanger or make a population feel uncomfortable and at risk.”
American Muslims have, in recent months, had plenty of reason to feel ill at ease. Amid heightened and vitriolic anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and from politicians after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. have tripled.
The Huffington Post has also documented the near-daily harassment and bigotry Muslims face across the country.
In March alone, a teacher called a Muslim student a “terrorist”; a man told a couple of Muslim teens, “I’ve killed your motherf***ing kind”; a Muslim college student was attacked by a man yelling “Trump!”; a newspaper published an editorial comparing Islam to Nazism; a Buddhist monk mistaken for a Muslim was viciously attacked; fearmongering and pointless pieces of legislation targeting Sharia law and Syrian refugees were advanced; a presidential candidate said we need to “patrol and secure” neighborhoods occupied by people of a certain religion; and a Muslim college student was spit on and called a “Muslim f***ing bitch.”
The list goes on.
“Just this morning people were reading the story of Khairuldeen Mahkzoomi, the U.C. Berkeley senior who was removed from an airplane and interrogated by the FBI because he was speaking Arabic on his cell phone,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first-ever Muslim elected to Congress, told HuffPost in a statement Monday.
“This isn’t an isolated incident,” Ellison, a co-sponsor of the resolution, continued. “We see examples of anti-Muslim bias and bigotry every day in this country. Throughout our nation’s history, many groups have been scapegoated and treated unfairly. Those communities got organized and fought for equality. We must do the same.”
Yet the bill — which merely declares the resolve of the United States House of Representatives, and does not have the effect of law — will likely never pass.
It should be uncontroversial.” Robert McCaw of the Council on American-Islamic Relations
Five months since its introduction, the resolution has the support of 133 Democratic co-sponsors, but not the support of a single Republican in the GOP-controlled House. The bill has only a 9 percent chance of getting past committee, and an 8 percent chance of being agreed to, according to govtrack.us. Multiple congressional aides confirmed to HuffPost: this resolution is a no-go in this House of Representatives.
Another similar resolution introduced in September by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-Texas) — HR 413, which honors “the victims of hate crimes and Islamophobia” since the Sept. 11 attacks — faces the same bleak odds, according to govtrack.us.
Congress, it seems, has arrived at the unhappy moment when it’s politically untenable to condemn acts of discrimination and violence against some 7 million of the Americans it purportedly represents.
“[HR 569] has become party line and it should not be party line,” said Robert McCaw, the national government affairs director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It should be uncontroversial.”
Republicans, of course, are normally loath to consider any resolution introduced by Democrats, and nearly half of all resolutions introduced in the legislative body are never passed. But McCaw said Republicans’ apparent unwillingness to consider the resolution doesn’t stem from everyday politics. Rather, it’s part of a cynical political calculus.
“The fear among Republicans is that if they stand up to Islamophobia they are going to be challenged by the 70 percent of the GOP that wants to ban Muslims entering the U.S.” McCaw said. “There’s a lack of moral backbone in the Republican Party to stand up to Islamophobia and that’s what needs to be addressed.”
The failure to pass the resolution also highlights the blatant Islamophobia of some members of the House of Representatives itself. In order for the resolution to even get to a vote, it would first need to get out of a House subcommittee whose members have often spouted vile anti-Muslim rhetoric and conspiracy theories.
Four Republicans and three Democrats sit on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. None of the four Republicans — subcommittee Chairman Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Steve King (R-Iowa) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — have expressed support for the resolution. None responded to requests for comment on the subject.
It’s ultimately up to Franks whether the resolution will get a vote on the House floor. A 2011 report by the Center for American Progress called FEAR INC. identifies Franks as a member of the so-called Islamophobia Network, a multimillion-dollar, informal coalition of hate groups, think tanks, talking heads and politicians who regularly spew hate and misinformation about Islam.
In 2008, Franks endorsed an anti-Muslim film called “The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America.” In 2009, he alleged that the Council on American-Islamic Relations was trying to plant “spies” in Congress. In 2013, he spoke at a conference about the “enemy of freedom: Islam.” And here he is last month refusing to condemn a proposal by Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods”:
Gohmert, also named as part of the Islamophobia Network, once made the wildly unsubstantiated claim that Muslims were sending pregnant women to the United States to give birth to “future terrorists” who would “help destroy our way of life.”
He has accused Hillary Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin, among others, of wanting to replace the U.S. Constitution with Islamic Sharia law. (The accusation is part of a well-known and widely debunked conspiracy theory about so-called civilization jihad.) Gohmert also once flat-out said: “Islam is evil. We must shout this out so loud that even President Obama and all the other cowards in politics all over the West will hear it.”
He also once parroted a conspiracy theory — from the gravely disreputable site InfoWars — that an imam in Jerusalem told migrants to “go into Western Europe, build your enclaves there, breed their women, and do not associate or assimilate into the boarder society.”
In short, the chances of the bill getting out of this subcommittee are very, very slim.
But that didn’t stop hundreds of Muslim delegates earlier this week from trying. An estimated 330 Muslims from different advocacy groups in 28 states, including CAIR, converged on Capitol Hill on Monday to take part in the second annual National Muslim Advocacy Day.
They met with 145 representatives or the representatives’ staffs, lobbying for, among other pieces of legislation, HR 569. The idea was to drum up some actual Republican support for the measure, in hopes of a domino effect that could eventually lead to its passage.
Rasha Mubarak, the Orlando regional coordinator at CAIR, said she met with multiple Republicans on the hill Monday. She said she “found it worrisome that many of the elected officials we have met with were unaware of the severe hate crimes and hate incidents reported in their districts.”
“However, they were receptive and espoused our concerns,” she continued. “We look forward to their follow-up on how to create a safer climate of tolerance for our Florida constituents.”
It’s a start.
“I’m not saying all Republicans are Muslim-haters, but I am saying that all Muslim-haters seem to be Republican,” Ellison, the representative from Minnesota, told delegates at the Capitol Hill gathering Monday.
But it wasn’t always like that. In 2000, Muslim Americans actually tended to affiliate themselves more with Republican candidates. But over the last 16 years, amid anti-Muslim backlash after the Sept. 11 attacks and the increasingly anti-Muslim rhetoric of GOP lawmakers, Muslim Americans have turned to Democratic candidates. According to a recent Pew Research study, 70 percent of Muslim Americans are now Democrats, while only 11 percent align themselves with Republicans.
There could be a real opportunity for Republicans in passing the resolution: it could be a step toward regaining the support of Muslim American voters.
“They have huge Muslim constituencies, many of whom support GOP efforts,” Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), the second Muslim ever elected to Congress, told HuffPost Monday, encouraging his Republican colleagues to support the bill.
The Republican Party has a legacy of standing up for the American Muslim community. In 1957, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the Islamic Center of Washington.
“And I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion,” Eisenhower said in his dedication speech. “Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience.”
In 1974, Republican President Gerald Ford was the first U.S. president to send an Eid al-Fitr message to all Americans of the Islamic faith, a tradition that’s been carried on by most presidents since.
And in 2001, six days after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, President George W. Bush, a Republican, visited the Islamic Center of Washington — the same mosque dedicated by Eisenhower — and said simply: “Islam is peace.”
In a December op-ed for Time magazine, Honda, the representative from California, pointed out that it took the political courage of one Republican in 1988 to pass the Civil Liberties Act — which officially recognized that the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII was “without adequate security reasons” and was actually “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” It also provided reparations of $20,000 to every person imprisoned at the camps.
“Even though the majority of Republicans in Congress voted against the Civil Liberties Act in 1987, President Reagan demonstrated real political leadership by bucking his party and siding with the Democratic majority to sign this landmark legislation into law,” Honda wrote. “President Reagan looked beyond the partisan divide of the time and did the right thing — holding our country accountable to its moral standards and acknowledging the internment of innocent Americans as a dark chapter in the American story.”
In February, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), introduced a resolution in the Senate marking the anniversary of Executive Order 9066, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1942 order to imprison Japanese-Americans during the war.
Tucked near the end of the resolution there are a few paragraphs drawing a parallel between the political climate of World War II and today: “Whereas the terrorist attacks carried out in Paris, France, on November 5, 2015, have led to renewed calls from public officials and figures to register Muslim Americans and bar millions from entering the United States based solely on the religion of those individuals, repeating the mistakes of 1942.”
It has yet to gain any Republican co-sponsors.
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