January 9, 2016

We know our history, but that’s not enough.

Posted in Marginalization, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:04 pm by chavisory

As I see various reactions to things like Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, requiring American Muslims to register and wear ID tags, or the attempts of multiple mayors and governors to exclude Syrian refugees from residence in their cities and states, it’s common to see comparisons between the prejudices underlying those proposals and those that preceded events like the Japanese-American internment of World War 2, or America’s refusal of Jewish refugees from Europe.

These ideas are gaining traction again, it’s said, because Americans don’t know our history.

Takei’s remarks here are worth watching, but I disagree with his conclusions that the problem is that we don’t know this history.

Most everyone putting this stuff forward, or backing the politicians who do, I’m willing to bet, knows about the Japanese-American internment.

It’s just that they have some kind of reason or excuse for why it was justified.  Why the human suffering was regrettable, but the reasoning for it was basically sound.  Or why maybe it wasn’t right, but it was an understandable reaction.  Or why it wasn’t really that bad.  Why people were lucky to be in our concentration camps instead of German concentration camps.  Or why what they’re advocating now wouldn’t be really, really the same thing.

Or on some level, they think that people who maintain that it was wrong then and it would be wrong now can’t really be serious.  That they’re just saying what “everyone” else actually thinks but won’t admit.

I really suspect that leaders who promote these policies don’t fully get that those of us who object to them aren’t just trying not to look racist or sound politically correct–that we really think with deadly sincerity that the protections of the Constitution and ideals of equality before the law apply to everyone.  That it is wrong, across the board, to single out a group for stigma or retribution based on their race, religion, or national origin.  (Aside from that it has never made us safer.)  Always.  Not “unless they belong to a group that enough people are afraid of,” or “unless someone else who looked like them committed a high-profile crime,” or “unless their culture is one we don’t understand or approve of.”

I don’t think we don’t know our history.  I think a lot of people just believe that their own prejudice is better.  This time, their threat perception is accurate.  This time, it’s truly necessary.  This time, we know who the real wrong group of people is.

March 10, 2011

Why I’m a Muslim today, too, Peter King

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 3:30 pm by chavisory

Today, Republican Representative Peter King’s congressional hearings on radicalization within the American Muslim community begin.  And I would say that this blatant and apparently un-self-conscious re-enactment of the McCarthy hearings, this repellent attempt by Representative King to use collective blame to make us view our Muslim fellow citizens with fear and suspicion or as somehow less than fully American, makes me ashamed to be an American, or makes me ashamed that King represents my state.

Except that everywhere, I read about people standing up to what King’s doing, speaking up in defense of the Muslim community, pointing out the hypocrisy of the very premise of the hearings, and drawing comparisons to the McCarthy hearings and Salem witch trials.  And it makes me proud, and makes me wonder if we might finally actually be learning something as a country, even if our leaders aren’t yet.  Which is that, while any of us are in danger of persecution or officially sanctioned injustice, all of us are.

In illustration, one of my favorite articles of the week, shared by a Facebook friend, comes from the Washington Post and chronicles the relationship of support built between the Muslim and Japanese-American communities on the west coast in the years since 9/11.  (Japanese Americans: House hearings on radical Islam ‘sinister.’)  The Japanese-American community remembers the internments of World War II, based on nothing more than suspicion of their ethnicity.  They remember that it can happen to them, and it can happen again.

I have a theory, which is that people who instigate and support this kind of targeting and suspicion of others based on group identity, are people who are themselves pretty sure that the same tactics will never be turned back against them.  People who have never been excluded or abused or marginalized based on who they are, have an easy time believing that they never will be.  People who have always been able to take their place in society, or even humanity, for granted, have a hard time imagining not being able to do so.

But people who have been marginalized instinctively identify ourselves in every marginalized person, and see the danger to ourselves in injustice against anyone.

There’s a scene in one of my favorite books, which I’ve written about before, World Without End, in which a serf named Wulfric and his family have run away from the lord who controls their land, to another community where they have a chance to be independent and escape the grinding, perpetual poverty of feudal life.  Sir Ralph comes to force Wulfric to return, as was legal in those days: the lord who owned your land effectively owned you.  Another man tries to defend Wulfric, who says “Be quiet, Carl.  I don’t want you killed for my sake.”

“It’s not for your sake,” says Carl.  “If this thug is allowed to drag you off, next week someone will come for me.”

And that’s why King seeks with his hearings to get Americans to see American Muslims as not truly us, but “them,” some alien and hostile force among us.  Whatever his ultimate aim is, and I don’t believe for one second that it’s really just to determine the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community, it depends on us seeing Muslims as something other than and less than ourselves.

And that’s why I say that today, I’m a Muslim too, or might as well be, because anything that can be done to anyone–like being presumed guilty of collusion with terrorists and investigated by Congress for your religious identity–can be done to all of us.  Every single one.  Never pretend that it can’t.


“Congressman defends hearing on radical Islam” (NYT)

Representative Keith Ellison’s testimony at King’s hearing: