A few years ago, after writing an article on the high crime rate among illegal immigrants in California, I received an irate phone call from an immigrant who, although claiming to be a naturalized citizen, kept referring to "you Yankees." As a third-generation Japanese American, I`m a "Yankee" if that means that I`m an American. So was that immigrant naturalized citizen, but though he may have been a citizen on paper, he was not an American in his heart.
Remembering that incident got me to thinking about Pearl Harbor. September 11, 2001 was a second Pearl Harbor—a vicious sneak attack that killed thousands of Americans. While the attacks may be similar, however, the general reaction of Japanese Americans in 1941 and those of Muslim Americans nearly sixty years later to the tragedies of the day have been very different. This is not surprising, though, considering our politically correct emphasis on multiculturalism over immigrant assimilation.
After Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, thousands of Japanese Americans ended up being interned in camps for the duration of World War II. Despite the abridgement of their constitutional rights, the vast majority of Japanese Americans remained strongly loyal to the United States. As one wartime Japanese American said, "Yes, the United States did make a mistake [about the internment] but we felt it was our country–right and wrong."
Such pro-U.S. sentiment among Japanese Americans was due, in large part, to the strong assimilation process that existed before the war. Rather than today`s multiculturalism, which believes that all cultures are equally good and which Balkanizes immigrants and separates them from historic American culture, immigrant Japanese and their children were expected to become mainstream Americans. Japanese-American community leaders and organizations emphasized this goal. A 1942 Japanese-American creed stated: "I believe in [America`s] institutions, ideals and traditions; I glory in her heritage; I boast of her history; I trust in her future. Because I believe in America, and I trust she believes in me, and because I have received innumerable benefits from her, I pledge myself to do honor to her at all times and in all places." The result of this assimilation process was a sincere and deep patriotism on the part of most Japanese Americans.
Perhaps the most visible sign of this patriotism was the willingness of legions of young Japanese-American men to join specially formed combat units of the U.S. Army. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese Americans, became the most highly decorated unit of the war for its bravery in the European theater. It`s worth noting that many Japanese Americans had wanted to fight against Japan. One Japanese-American recruit said, "I was excited and felt we were going to the Pacific Theater at that time. I talked to a number of officers and enlisted men of Japanese American ancestry about the possibility of going to the Far East. No one had any objections. We were ready to go."
Contrast those sentiments with the pronouncements and actions of Muslim American spokesmen and groups in the wake of the September 11th attack by Muslim terrorists, many of whom had illegally immigrated to the U.S.. There have been no stirring pleas for young Muslim Americans to enlist in the American military or organizing of patriotic rallies in Muslim communities. Indeed, on a recent segment of 60 Minutes, a supposedly moderate Muslim American cleric, citing U.S. foreign policies, accused the U.S. of being an "accessory" to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Although condemning terrorism in general, officials for key Muslim American groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have been hesitant to condemn Osama bin Laden, the all but certain mastermind behind the September 11 terror attacks. This is unsurprising given that CAIR and other Muslim groups such as the American Muslim Council (AMC) have in the past refused to condemn known Islamic terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah and have criticized the conviction of the Islamic extremists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. Adopting the strategy of other ethnic-based groups, CAIR and AMC prefer to fight perceived biases against Muslims in American society rather than making immigrant Muslims better Americans.
As so many officials from George W. Bush on downward have pointed out, most Muslim Americans are decent law-abiding people. But today`s multiculturalist ethos doesn`t seek immigrant assimilation or require immigrants to be patriotic. The natural result is that many immigrants are not assimilated and have little feelings of patriotism. In a survey of Muslims in Los Angeles County, Kambiz GhaneaBasiri, a fellow of Harvard`s Center for the Study of World Religions, found that "a significant number of Muslims, particularly immigrant Muslims, do not have close ties or loyalty to the United States." Indeed, he found that 12 out of 15 immigrants feel more allegiance to a foreign country than to the United States. Thomas Sowell has warned that immigrants "may be hijacked by those activists who are ideologically committed to keeping them speaking foreign languages, loyal to foreign values and—if possible—taught to feel historic grievances against the country that is welcoming them today."
All this is not to single out immigrant Muslims for potential disloyalty to the United States. Remember the infamous incident in Los Angeles several years ago when tens of thousands of immigrant Mexicans booed and hurled abuse on the U.S. national soccer team in a match against Mexico.
The real problem, then, is twofold. First, America`s immigration system annually allows in tens of thousands of immigrants, many of them illegal, with little regard for their economic productivity, their social pasts, or their interest in assimilating into mainstream American culture. The second problem is the complete lack of will to limit immigration and ensure immigrant assimilation.
Writing earlier this year, famed Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington said that modern immigrants to the United States maintain dual identities, so much so that Mexican presidential candidates now campaign for votes and money in Los Angeles. In view of today`s unending flow of immigrants, Huntington says that the U.S. cannot assume that because it was successful at assimilation in the past it will be successful in the future.
Indeed, until we free ourselves of the constraints of multiculturalist dogma, and reaffirm the central importance of historic American culture and immigrant assimilation into that culture, we will face an immigrant situation that is not only a social problem, but also a national security risk.
Lance Izumi is a Senior Fellow in California Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.
October 17, 2001