It’s been sixty years since Executive Order 9066 was abandoned, yet for most people that fact means very little. Americans and non-American’s alike, are still largely unaware of the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans in the early months of 1942. They will however, be familiar with Pearl Harbour, the attack that started it all.
Following the bombing of the American naval base, the U.S. Government made an extreme decision — for the safety of the country, they claimed — to relocate people with Japanese ancestry who were living along the West Coast. Many were full American citizens; they had never been to Japan, or spoke a word of Japanese. Yet they, like many others, were categorized; labelled ‘the enemy’ in a country they thought was their home.
In just a few weeks, their ‘Americanness’ was stripped from them, all down to an event they had nothing to do with. Being associated with the national enemy led to an othering of Japanese-Americans — not unlike the mistrust of Muslim-Americans in post-9/11 U.S.A.
Fifteen years after the terrorist attacks, we are now living in a world in which an outspoken anti-Muslim man is set to be in charge of the United States. The ongoing — and abstract — ‘war on terror’ has amplified people’s suspicions of anyone with a Muslim sounding name, features or way of dress. Whereas the confinement and mistrust of Japanese-Americans ended shortly after the War, the war on terror seems to be ever-changing and ever-growing with each day that passes. A lack of understanding of who — or why — the West is fighting, is creating a division between Muslim-Americans and the rest of society.
Every day, videos of racist slurs and abuse plague the internet. It is now not uncommon for shocking statements to make the news and be forgotten the next day. The sad fact is this: there now exists in America a society in which Muslims are having to prove they belong in their country, but only by denouncing their religious beliefs.
Unlike the Japanese-Americans, they have not been placed in concentration camps. Their confinement is much more subtle, but nevertheless caused by the Government’s attitude.
However, also unlike the Japanese-Americans, there is no order that can be abolished, no legislation that can be cancelled to stop it all. The Government’s constant rhetoric belittling the Muslim religion has been pumped into the country, fuelling the ‘acceptable’ Islamophobia. With the victory of President-elect Donald Trump, this is only about to get a whole lot worse.
The ‘us and them’ approach, that has been harnessed by the Government in order to make the war on terror justifiable and understandable for the everyday American, has implicated all Muslims as posing a potential threat. This in turn includes many Muslim-Americans who would in fact argue that they firstly identify themselves as American, and only secondly as Muslim. Just like the Japanese-Americans before them, they have been labelled as not fully belonging there, no matter what generation they are or what citizenship they hold.
In a country riddled with fear and doubt, it has been easy for Donald Trump to appeal to masses of Americans and present them with a simplistic approach: prove you belong here, or get out. Not only does this apply for the Muslim and Japanese-Americans, but the many other minorities that he dehumanized over the course of his election campaign. Banning Muslims from entering the US, building a wall along the Mexican border and deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, is just the way to solve America’s problems, he believes.
Some may scoff at his claims, and say that it was simply ‘entertainment’ during a tense political race. Perhaps. However, Executive Order 9066 and the Japanese-American relocation was covered up — even denied — for many years. The term Islamophobia is already one that exists in our vocabulary, now what’s the next step?