My father loved this country and proudly served in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service. Yet when I was a young child during World War II, we were confined for several years at Camp Amache, an internment camp in southeast Colorado, simply because we were of Japanese ancestry. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans were unjustly placed under scrutiny and suspicion because few in Washington were brave enough to say "no." The decision to incarcerate, according to a report by the congressionally-mandated Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, was based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."
Now, decades later, something similarly sinister is returning to our country. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is organizing congressional hearings on Muslim Americans. These hearings are scheduled to take place within the House Homeland Security Committee.
Rep. King's intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. By framing his hearings as an investigation of the American Muslim community, the implication is that we should be suspicious of our Muslim neighbors, coworkers or classmates solely on the basis of their religion.
This should be deeply troubling to Americans of all races and religions. An investigation specifically targeting a single religion implies, erroneously, a dangerous disloyalty, with one broad sweep of the discriminatory brush.
In building the pretext for the hearings, King has repeatedly said that American Muslim community leaders have failed to cooperate with law enforcement officials in the effort to disrupt terrorism plots -- a claim that has been refuted by U.S. counter-terrorism experts and top law enforcement officials. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, for example, who works with a large Muslim-American population, has countered King's allegation by asserting, unequivocally, that cooperation with the community is active and aggressive. (Incidentally, Rep. King will not be calling any law enforcement professionals to testify during his hearings.)
While protecting our homeland from acts of violence should be a top priority for policymakers, we must remember that no entire community can be held responsible for the acts of a few people. A "presumption of guilt" should never be applied collectively. We must aggressively investigate criminal behavior, watch for patterns that point to emerging threats, and stay constantly vigilant as citizens, but we must also not divide or target Americans simply on the basis of their faith or ancestry.
Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, serves as House Democratic senior whip, member of both House Budget and Appropriations committees, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's Peace and Security Taskforce, and is the former chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Follow Rep Honda on Facebook and Twitter. This article first ran in San Francisco Chronicle.