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The hurt has subsided, but there still is anger in Rep. Michael Honda’s voice when he says his family was singled out because “we looked like the enemy.” Honda, D-Calif., was talking about the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II. But he said he could just as easily have been describing the experience of people of Middle Eastern descent in the two weeks since the terrorist attacks. Arab-Americans have been stopped by police, forced to leave airplanes and, in some cases, subjected to violence. Honda, a freshman, and fellow Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Calif., in his 12th term, say they feel a special duty to speak out against harassment of Arab-Americans following the terrorist attacks because of their families’ experiences during World War II. “We have a particular responsibility based upon a unique experience,” said Honda, 60, who was moved with his parents from California’s Central Valley to a compound in Amache, Colo., ringed with barbed wire and armed guards. Matsui said he shuddered when he heard the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks compared to Pearl Harbor. It’s not that he found the analogy inapt. Rather, he said, it was a reminder of what can happen to civil liberties in times of crisis. “In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, no one spoke out,” Matsui said. The two congressmen were infants when their parents were forced from their homes and into internment camps in what the government has since acknowledged was a bigoted effort borne of war hysteria. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a wartime ruling that never has been overturned, upheld the forced relocation of 120,000 Japanese-Americans. But in the late 1980s, Congress apologized and set aside about $20,000 for each of the internees or their heirs. Matsui and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, then a member of Congress who also was held in a camp as a child, led the drive. Matsui’s American-born parents were in their early 20s when they were moved from Sacramento to an internment camp at Tule Lake, Calif., which held nearly 19,000 people at its peak. No one in the Matsui household spoke of the experience for nearly 40 years. “It wasn’t until my mother was on her death bed in 1984 that she said she had nightmares about the camps,” Matsui, 60, recalled in an interview. “She’d wake up and think she was still in them.” That silence is one reason why Honda and Matsui said they feel obligated to call attention to reported instances of apparent racial profiling, the practice of singling out people based on their appearance. They also said they are watching closely the Bush administration’s proposal for more anti-terrorism measures, including one to hold immigrants suspected of terrorism indefinitely. “Under the Constitution of the United States, we have an obligation to give people due process,” Matsui said. Both said they have been pleased by the denunciation by President Bush and other government officials of threats and attacks against Arab-Americans and Muslims. One discordant note was the comment last week by Rep. John Cooksey, R-La., who used derogatory language to call for the questioning of all turban-wearing airline passengers. Cooksey has since apologized. Honda said such language is “irresponsible.” And he worries that the nation may not have seen the worst of harassment of Arab-Americans. “What’s going to be the emotional and public outrage and where will it be directed?” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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