We were attacked. It was a surprise. And to fight enemies abroad, we turned against neighbors at home.
This is what happened after that infamous December 7th, 74 years ago this week, when Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II. That initial attack, and the thousands who were killed or injured, was traumatizing. We were scared. But, before long, we let that fear cloud our sense of right and wrong. To feel safe, we adopted prejudice as a tactic and began rounding up American citizens of Japanese descent, holding them like prisoners without a single proven charge of espionage.
Years later, we apologized for that. But have we learned from it?
On September 11th, 2001, another surprise attack brought a resurgence of fear across our country. And with that fear came a resurgence of hate. Crimes against Muslims, Middle Easterners, or those of Arab descent, sky rocketed from 20-30 anti-Muslim crimes in a year to almost 500. And the numbers have remained high since then. Though we are more secure today, Muslims in America are attacked for being Muslim about five times more today than before 9/11. And that is because the level of hate speech in our national rhetoric remains high.
Just look at the most recent surprise attack in San Bernardino -- the worst case of domestic terror since 9/11. Not even days after that tragedy, imagine my shock when the head Liberty University called for more weapons on campus so that "we could end those Muslims before they walked in."
Those Muslims? Surely he misspoke. By using Muslims as a synonym for terrorists, we recklessly endanger innocent people. What's worse is that some take relish in encouraging it
Xenophobia has taken over. The latest proposal from would-be leaders to ban all Muslims from entering this country is turning fear into anger and directing it at minority groups. This is a level of demagoguery that my friend and fellow Congressmember Keith Ellison recently warned would likely end with somebody being killed - a concern backed up by the still high level of anti-Muslim crime. In fact, noted racist and former grand wizard of the KKK David Duke recently said the tone of political speech today has "made it okay" to air white supremacist views.
And I fear it will only get worse. This is not just an unsettling return to the racist mistakes of our past. It's distorting our country moving forward, leaving us all less safe in the long-term.
By pushing away the American-Muslim community, we lose one of our greatest assets against terrorism: the trust between the community and law enforcement that we rely on to spot the warning signs of radicalization. The reality is that one of our greatest threats is in homegrown terrorism, radicalized individuals acting on their own the way we saw in San Bernardino. Further, acting the way ISIL claims in their propaganda by turning against our own Muslim community only contributes to those who are vulnerable to radicalization.
The proper response to an attack is unity. We are stronger when we stand together. Others want us to forget that and turn a suspicious eye on those around us, dividing Americans along faith lines. This is wrong for our country and for our safety.
We need to fight against the fear and anger directed at Muslims and others. We need to resist the dangerous prejudices of our past that gave us the Jim Crow laws, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese incarceration during World War II, and jobs offered with the caveat that Irish, Italians, or Jews need not apply.
Anything else is reckless endangerment.