Ten weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted Executive Order 9066, which called for the internment all people of Japanese ancestry living in America.
Most of those jailed were U.S. citizens and many were children. Jailing them was seen as a way to "protect ourselves" against Japanese. Said one broadcaster, "We are protecting ourselves without violating the principles of Christian decency." (http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/11/17/502442853/renewed-support-for-muslim-registry-called-abhorrent) Few Americans, Christian or otherwise, spoke out against this mass imprisonment.
That same fear was stoked after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in this country. Months after that attack, a program called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System was put into place by the U.S. government. It required anyone entering the United States from a few selected countries to undergo "thorough interrogation and be fingerprinted." Ten years later, in 2011, the program, which is known by the acronym NSEERS, was suspended, but with the recent terror attacks in this country and abroad, the incoming presidential administration is promising to bring it back.
If not the same program, persons related and attached to the Trump transition team say a similar program is necessary to "protect" America. The target this time is Muslims, all Muslims, and while President-elect Trump has promised that there will be "extreme vetting" for immigrants who want to come to America from countries labeled as hotbeds of anti-Western terrorism, the thought of the establishment of a so-called "Muslim registry" has Muslims nervous and social activists on edge.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump said that he "would certainly implement" a law that would require Muslims to add their names to a national database." (http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/11/17/502442853/renewed-support-for-muslim-registry-called-abhorrent) Although groups have denounced even the idea of the establishment of the database, constitutional attorneys say that its establishment, while repugnant to some, would not be illegal.
Churches and immigrants-rights groups have been quick to object, calling the move "hateful, divisive and racist." There is now a national call to President Obama to completely eliminate NSEERS before he leaves office. A mass rally and march was held in Washington, DC this past Monday for that reason. The president has not yet responded to the demand.
A statement put out by the Fellowship of Reconciliation said, "in response to the incoming administration's hateful potential for increasingly oppressive policies, the Fellowship of Reconciliation will expand efforts to promote a culture of nonviolent resistance to the triple evils of racism, militarism and materialism."
FOR said in its statement, which is accompanying a video it has produced decrying the proposed registry, "We will continue to support and strengthen grassroots efforts by providing education and training in nonviolent organizing and activism. We will raise a louder voice of hope and compassion through our ongoing nonviolent narrative, and to promote spiritually-grounded principles of nonviolence as a way of life." (www.forusa.org)
Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, himself a Muslim, slammed the proposed registry, saying "that if the Trump administration moves forward with the racist and divisive policies his team have been advocating for, we will be the first ones to stand up to him. We will be the first ones to tell him, 'no.'"
Telling him "no" may not make much difference. Fear of terrorism is driving the push to isolate Muslims and keep them out of the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that in New York, since 2002, New York City police officers have been "engaged in religious profiling of Muslims in New York and beyond." The report said that Muslim neighborhoods, mosques, community centers, student associations and businesses have been under surveillance. (https://www.aclu.org/other/factsheet-nypd-muslim-surveillance-program) Although the program was supposedly disbanded, reports indicate that aspects of it are still continuing.
The terrorist attacks in Europe and in San Bernadino have only served to stoke the fear which is bubbling below the surface in many cities and countries. There have been reports of increased attacks on innocent Muslims in this country and beyond. (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/houston-florida-mosques-worshipers-shooting-beating/)
In spite of threats, cities, churches and universities are setting up sanctuaries for Muslims in this country. In spite of the possibility of losing federal dollars for some of their programs, mayors of cities are stepping forward and proclaiming that they will continue to protect their immigrants. (http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/bill-de-blasio-nyc-immigrants-protect/2016/11/16/id/759246/)
It took 37 years for the United States to apologize to the Japanese for their internment. President Ronald Reagan said on August 10, 1988, "No payment can make up for those lost years...Here, we admit a wrong. We reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law." He issued the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which acknowledged that the order to jail all Japanese were "fundamentally wrong." Congress responded to a push from Japanese-Americans who decried the internment, and came up with a report that said what America had done to the Japanese a "grave injustice." The Japanese were given an apology and $20,000 was also give to each victim.
Those who are watching the fear and frenzy grow around Muslims are remembering how fear drove America to violate the rights of Japanese and are hoping that their work and passion for there not to be a repetition of history will pay off, stifling the growing call to isolate and further discriminate against Muslims.
They are not hopeful, many say, but they are determined to stay the course and fight for justice for this population which needs the support of many.