A new book by right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin, “In Defense of Internment,” argues in favor of extensive discrimination and racial profiling against Arab-Americans and Muslims in the United States, and passionately defends the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II.
A rising star on the US extreme right, Malkin specifically denies advocating the mass imprisonment of Arabs and Muslims, but the logic of her book strongly contradicts these apparently pro forma disavowals.
“Make no mistake: I am not advocating rounding up all Arabs or Muslims and tossing them into camps, but when we are under attack, ‘Racial profiling’ – or more precisely, threat profiling – is justified,” she argues. However, given her full-throated defense of the wartime imprisonment of tens of thousands of Japanese-American men, women and children on the supposition that their ethnicity made them a security threat, her book does seem to constitute the brief for the potential internment of Arab- and Muslim-Americans.
The daughter of Filipino immigrants, Malkin has made a career out of being among the strongest critics of immigration and immigrants’ rights. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks she has been one of the most hostile commentators toward the Arab- and Muslim-American communities, consistently arguing in favor of discrimination and profiling, and describing the backlash of hate crimes and discrimination against the communities as a “myth.”
Whatever reservations Malkin may have about a mass incarceration of Arab- and Muslim-Americans are confined to a single sentence: “In part because of the geographical dispersion of the current threat of Islamofascism, it is hard to imagine parallel circumstances under which America would be compelled to replicate something on the scale of the West Coast evacuation and relocation during World War II.”
Her only apparent concerns, therefore, have to do with practicality and scale, not any consideration of the legal and constitutional rights of Arab- and Muslim-Americans, or the moral implications of locking up large numbers of people based solely on their identity – a situation she repeatedly characterizes as an ” inconvenience.” Even without another mass internment, she insists, “there is much else we can learn from the past if it is viewed without a knee-jerk impulse to cry ‘racism’ at every turn.”
Malkin calls for extensive, systematized discrimination, arguing that “it is of questionable wisdom to continue allowing Muslims to serve in the US military in combat roles in the Mideast and to have access to classified information, except under extraordinary circumstances and after thorough background checks.” She calls for “the strictest scrutiny” for “Muslim chaplains in the military and prisons,” and urges across-the-board profiling on the basis of “race, ethnicity, religion and nationality.”
Unfortunately for Malkin, the senior-most officials in charge of US national security are increasingly acknowledging that the approaches she advocates, which boil down to little more than the crudest stereotyping, are completely ineffective.
The latest senior official to express such reservations was none other than the Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, who on Monday explained: “There was a legitimate concern right after Sept. 11 that the face of international terrorism was basically from the Middle East. We know differently. We don’t have the luxury of kidding ourselves that there is an ethnic or racial or country profile.”
In an effort to justify the politics of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, Malkin’s book argues that one of the most egregious instances in US history, the mass internment of Japanese-Americans, was a military necessity.
Malkin says she was drawn to the subject because critics of post-Sept. 11 profiling persistently cited the Japanese internment as an example of the logical conclusion of security measures based on ethnic stereotyping. Her book presents no new information regarding the World War II internments and relies heavily on a set of decrypted cables, which indicate that the Japanese government intended to establish a spy network in the US in the buildup to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the cables express more interest in recruiting non-Japanese spies. None of the “evacuated and relocated” Japanese-Americans were ever arrested or even accused of being a spy or saboteur.
There were very few instances of Japanese-American disloyalty; on the contrary, thousands served in the military with the greatest distinction.
Her thesis that the internments were a bona fide military necessity directly contradicts a national consensus defined by the conclusion of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which said in 1981 that “it should be common knowledge that the detention of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II was not an act of military necessity but an act of racial discrimination.”
Malkin condemns the apology issued by President Ronald Regan and the compensation paid to the detainees, and dismisses the commission’s work as replete with “injustice, irony, intellectual dishonesty and incompetence.”
Some scholars have already passed a similar judgment on “In Defense of Internment.” Eric Muller, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who has written extensively on the subject, told The Daily Star, “Malkin’s argument depends on a studied ignorance of the overwhelming evidence in the historical record, documented by dozens of scholars, of the impact of racism and wartime hysteria on those who conceived of and planned and implemented the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II.”
Another leading scholar of the internments, Greg Robinson, author of “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans,” told The Daily Star that, “there was a climate of racism against Japanese-Americans on the West Coast that began well before Pearl Harbor – fears about Japanese-American farmers about to poison vegetables or training with foreign armies long before the war started.
“You can’t extricate these fears from the decisions that were made, and Malkin shows bad faith by excluding this history … from her arguments.”
Both Muller and Robinson agreed that while Malkin specifically says she is not advocating the mass incarceration of Arab- or Muslim-Americans, the logic of her arguments and the evidence she presents would make it almost impossible for her to object to such internments were they to be implemented today.