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.
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.
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.