By Susan Schwartz, TMO
As the anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11 looms in the public mind, a question must also arise. How best to commemorate this tragedy so as not to minimize its impact nor to permit it to become a vehicle for Islamophobia. Two Islamic groups joined together this past weekend in Los Angeles and found an optimum way. By juxtaposing the experience of the Japanese American community in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack and the experience of the Muslim American community in the aftermath of 9/11, they have set for the United States a commitment to a path of justice and fairness.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Islamic Center of Southern California presented a special Sunday event at the headquarters of the latter, titled: Patriotism and Pluralism after 9/11; Honoring the Japanese American Community. The event was the second of a three part series, commemorating the terrible crime of September 11, 2001.
The meeting room of the Islamic Center was filled to capacity as the audience watched Salaam Al Marayati, the Executive Director of MPAC, present awards to four members of the Japanese American community and to thank them for their support of the Muslim community in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. â€œWe are honoring a very special peopleâ€. Indeed the Japanese American community with the memory of post Pearl Harbor internment camps deeply seared, was the first community to reach out to Muslims. One of the awardees, a Buddhist Bishop, offered his temple as a sanctuary to Muslims and hosted Iftars there. In addition, Japanese Americans were prescient enough to catch the whiff of Islamophobia and warned the community before it became overt.
The late Dr. Hassan Hathout spoke at the MPAC Convention immediately following 9/11 and reminded his audience that terrorism does not belong to any religion. He urged people to have â€œhearts filled with loveâ€â€™
The program began with a video clip provided by the Japanese American National Museum. The video showed families being rounded up, allowed to take with them a few meager possessions, and sent on their way to what was euphemistically termed internment camps. This took place shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941.One of the following speakers pointed out that these camps were for all intents and purposes, concentration camps.
During the presentations that followed the audience gasped as one when told that the United States kidnapped children from the Japanese American community to hold them as hostages against the Japanese government.
â€œI almost canâ€™t believe itâ€ said one young woman.
â€œI canâ€ replied her neighbor.
Dr. Maher Hathout, the senior political advisor to MPAC, closed the event with an address asking what we have learned and what experiences we have gained.
â€œIf you are locked in a date base, that is a kind of concentration campâ€. He continued â€œPeople hate you, donâ€™t trust youâ€. A Presidential candidate says in front of a national audience that he would never appoint a Muslim to his cabinet. Thousand of copies of the Islamophobic video â€œObsessionâ€ are distributed. When discussing the parallels between Pearl Harbor and 9/11, Dr, Hathout suggested that in both cases groups were targeted and subsequently punished for acts they did not do and decisions that did not make. Just as Japanese Americans paid the price in 1941 and the aftermath for a decision made in Tokyo, after 9/11 Muslims had to take the consequences for a decision they did not make and would not have made.
Dr. Hathout urged his audience to make 9/11 an experience that will add to our growth – but not a memory. Memories fade. The U.S. has become more sophisticated in the virtual concentration camp it has created. â€˜They saved money on barbed wire and metal bars.â€
MPAC and the Islamic Center of Southern California held a blood drive on September 8th and an interfaith service on September 11th.
MPAC was founded in 1986 to create a vibrant identity with respect to Muslim Americans. They sought to represent Muslim interests to decision makers in government and the media and to work within diverse faiths and communities. They have succeeded and surpassed the goals they set in 1986. Please visit their web site at: www.mpac.org.
The Islamic Center of Southern California was the first mosque built in California. While famous for its beauty, it is also noted for the quality of itâ€™s programs, its openness to interfaith work, and its welcoming attitude. Please visit its web site at: www.icsconline.org.