Recently I’ve been seeing a rash of anti-Muslim posts and comments on the internet. Many people are angry and worried at the recent wave of Christian persecution in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic extremists, and these people make the mistake of equating all Muslims for the actions of its extremists. The persecution of Christians in the Middle East is deplorable, but it is wrong to think that all Muslims are to blame for this. Many Muslims have condemned the persecution of Christians in these lands, but this has made many of these more moderate Muslims the target of Islamic extremist threats and violence. Since September 11, 2001, the Muslim American community has been subject to prejudice and sometimes violence at the hands of misguided Americans. One American group though, has reached out to help the Muslim American community and to defend them from unwarranted prejudice. Many members of the Japanese American community, who were the victims of anti-Japanese prejudice during World War II, have reached out to the Muslim American community to share of their common experience of being targets of fear and hysteria.
During World War II, the Japanese military were guilty of countless atrocities in the Asian countries that they conquered. In China, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and other Asian countries, the Japanese military had conducted massacres, rapes, held helpless Asian women as comfort women for their soldiers, brutally killed the civilian populations, and did experiments on prisoners of war.
Though the deeds of the Japanese military were dreadful, not all Japanese people were guilty of these crimes. In the United States, a wave of anti-Japanese hysteria led to the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans. These Japanese Americans had nothing to do with the crimes of the Japanese Imperial military and were law abiding American citizens. Many officials, including J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, had said that the Japanese American population posed no threat to the United States national security. In spite of the loyalty of Japanese Americans to the United States, they became the victims of racial prejudice and wartime hysteria and were put in internment camps and deprived of their rights and their property.
Because of these wartime experiences, many Japanese Americans are sympathetic to the plight of Muslim Americans who currently have faced much prejudice at the hands of right wing forces in this country. Many have gone on rallies and protests against government actions that target Muslim Americans and have visited Mosques to talk about their experiences in World War II.
Recently I got into a debate with an individual who was trying to convince a group that all Muslims were extremists who would eventually turn violent against nonMuslims. He argued that whenever a Muslim reads the Koran literally and faithfully, it ultimately leads the person down an extremist path.
I argued that Christians have gone through the same extremist phases that Muslims have gone through. Many Christians fundamentalists in history have read the Bible literally and have used the Bible to take extreme positions against gays and lesbians, against women, against African Americans, against the teaching of evolution. If you go back in history, Christians have gone through extreme phases where they persecuted Jews and other nonChristians during the Inquisition, pogroms, witch hunts, and various other periods of persecution.
The problem is not Islam, Christianity, or religion in general. The problem is human nature. Both religious and nonreligious groups are vulnerable to this sort of groupthink of extremism. When you look for extremism among atheist groups, you see Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the killing fields in Cambodia, the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s purges, and the Reign of Terror in France.
Any time a group thinks they are the only one with the right answers and they feel threatened with disagreement, the group will persecute anyone who disagrees with them.
Many groups are fighting against the persecution of Christians without falling into the trap of condemning all Muslims for the actions of extremists. Pope Francis, for instance, has consistently spoke out against the persecution of Christians while maintaining his respect for the Muslim community. He rightly condemns the actions of Islamic extremists, while reaching out to the greater Muslim community to work for peace and understanding for all religious people of good will.
In September 2010, Japanese American religious leaders, community groups and individuals held a vigil to protest the increased hatred directed against Muslims in the United States. Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II and understand how fear and hysteria can lead to the unjust persecution of a minority group
The Hawaiin Muslim community credits the Japanese American community with help following the 9/11 attacks
The Bridging Communities of Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco helped to create dialogue between Japanese American youths and Muslim American youths in 2011
Affad Shaikh of CAIR-Greater Los Angeles and Kathy Masaoka, the co-chair of Nikkei Civil Rights and Redress, discuss the Community Bridging Program
Japanese American National Museum prom