Food for thought on domestic terror cases

Consider the case of Peter Limone, Joseph Salvati, Henry Tameleo, and Louis Greco as you examine the latest sensational charges against Muslims and Muslim organizations today. These unfortunate gentlemen were framed for murder in 1965 with the knowledge of FBI officials.

U.S. Told to Pay $101 Million for Framing 4 Men – New York Times

In what appears to be the largest sum of money ever awarded to people who were wrongfully convicted, a judge today ordered the federal government to pay $101.8 million to make amends for framing four men for a murder they did not commit.

A reminder of the folly of naively assuming that officials will always dispassionately dispense justice away from the public eye,especially in a time of racial tension, security anxieties and escalating conflict. With cases like this–and there are many other cases of prejudice and personal agendas tainting the judicial process in America–just how are Muslims, the most feared and reviled group in American politics today, supposed to take it on faith that none of all these secretive terrorism cases are political vendettas? And how can other politically savvy and historically informed Americans (especially liberals) assume so, as well?

We’ve seen it before, we’ll see it again. As J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal activities against that infamous "Communist agitator" Martin Luther King, Jr show, in times of conflict there is always a danger of unaccountable politicians and bureaucrats being blinded by their ideological prejudices and feeling entitled to violate the rights of other Americans who’ve done nothing more than exercise their constitutional and moral right to free speech.

I wonder if there’s any evidence of prejudice playing a role in the 1965 convictions. I’ve heard noted scholar on Islam John Esposito observe that throughout his life he has persistently encountered offensive stereotypes among WASPs of Italian-Americans as automatically linked to the Mafia. I imagine these attitudes predated "The Godfather", which burst onto the scene in the 1970s and burned this association into the unconscious of every American moviegoer in a manner not unlike the way most movies today relentlessly link Muslims to terrorism and violence. (See Jack Sheehan’s Reel Bad Arabs for more on the latter.)

Speaking of the specter of bigotry-fueled witch hunts, consider also the experience of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, the "9/11" of a previous generation that resulted in state sanctioned racism in the name of national security. Some Japanese-Americans who lived through that shameful chapter of American history see striking parallels between Islamophobia today and anti-"Jap" sentiment during the Second World War.

Oakland Tribune: Japanese, Muslims recall racism

When the Imperial Japanese Navy swooped over Pearl Harbor 65 years ago and destroyed more than 2,400 American lives, Mas Yamasaki was watching a church basketball game in Sacramento. 

He was 12, and he didn’t know that he would soon live in a detention camp at Tule Lake — sleeping on an Army-issued mattress, braving the elements without indoor plumbing or heat. 

The child of Japanese immigrants, Yamasaki was born an American citizen. But he spent 31/2 years of his American childhood in the camp — he was considered a threat to national security. 

The internment of Japanese immigrants is familiar to most Americans — in large part, because Yamasaki and legions of Japanese camp survivors have made their voices heard.  Now, Yamasaki and other survivors are speaking out against a new danger.

"We were stereotyped," said Yamasaki. "Now, with the Muslims, it’s the same thing. Everyone’s pointing fingers saying they’re an enemy." 

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor stripped Japanese Americans of their homes and freedom. But five years ago, the actions of 19 hijackers radically altered the lives of the county’s estimated 6 million Muslims. 

"Pearl Harbor gave the United States the excuse to discriminate against Japanese Americans by saying these guys are potential saboteurs," said Steve Okamoto, co-president of the San Mateo chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). "Now, they’re lumping (Muslims) together like they did with the Japanese."
[HT: This is Babylon]

Contrary to perception–however justified it often has been–of Canada as being kinder and more tolerant than the US, its wartime internment of Japanese citizens was even worse. Canada at least learned a lesson and turned its back on second-class citizenship and racial profiling. Sadly, such abominations have been rehabilitated below the 49th parallel.

  • electromagnetic

    Barak Allah fikum for this post. I’m Canadian and unfortunately, what I hear from fellow Muslims who aren’t white is that racial profiling, at least in Toronto and Montreal, has been increasingly a significant problem in the last decade or so. There are parts of the east side of Toronto where you can walk or take public transportation and count maybe one white person for every twenty who are of East Asian, South Asian, Caribbean, African and South East-Asian ethnicity. Yet most police officers in those areas are still overwhelmingly white and often clueless about the people they are responsible for policing.
    I think things are changing slowly. A friend of mine who immigrated to Canada in his adolescence from Jamaica recently became a police officer and was posted to an area where most people are white. It remains to be seen if this is another merely exceptional case or if it is a sign of an emerging trend that will increasingly become normative (of ethnically diverse representation in Canadian socio-political institutions, from politics to policing to teaching).

  • svend

    Thanks for sharing those sad insights from up north. I’m not surprised at all that this is happening even up in our kinder gentler neighbor to the north, given how we even assuming greater political debate on Muslim related issues in the Canadian media we are all being reared on the same unhealthy slop of soundbytes, sensationalism and decontextualized facts. Such prejudices are a pretty understandable human reaction given the media climate most people live in. As usual, the only solution is probably ultimately diversity among decision-makers, media, government employees, …, which takes time.
    Be grateful you can at least be liberal and/or dissent without being feathered and tarred. This country’s political life has really been hijacked by zealots and fatcats.

  • electromagnetic

    True. Dissent has been more or less “sacred” around here and I’m definitely grateful for that. I took it for granted growing up, but hearing how things are going down south for a lot of folks has been a sharp wake-up call.
    Although I feel I ought to add that things have gotten so “liberal” in some parts of Canada and so “conservative” in other parts that, depending on where you are, you’re as likely to be tarred and feathered for dissenting with a liberal position at times as you are for dissenting with a conservative position.
    This can sometimes yield situations that are so absurd you can’t help but laugh.