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Arts and Entertainment

George Takei Slams Mayor Who Wants To Ban Syrian Refugees

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George Takei (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
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Actor George Takei called out the Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia after he justified his stance on banning Syrian refugees from entering his city by comparing it to the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II.

Takei, a 78-year-old, Japanese-American actor, famously known for his role in Star Trek, was born in Los Angeles. When he just four years old, he and his family were forced to relocate to a Japanese internment assembly center in the horse stables of the Santa Anita Park, which is more famous today for being a racetrack. Over the course of four years, the family would be transferred from one internment camp to another, including the swamps of Arkansas, dubbed Rohwer, and to the Tule Lake Internment Camp in Northern California.

On Wednesday, Mayor David Bowers asked that all Roanoke Valley government and non-government agencies stop Syrian refugee assistance, along with this controversial statement: "I'm reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis [sic] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then."

Well, it looks like Bowers needs a history lesson. Takei wrote in a lengthy Facebook post today explaining what Bowers got wrong:

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1) The internment (not a "sequester") was not of Japanese "foreign nationals," but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America. 2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected “enemies” then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.

3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing.

Takei, who is currently on Broadway for Allegiance—a musical he is starring in that details the history of the Japanese internment camps during World War II—also invited Bowers to come see a performance:
Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.

What Bowers may also have to be schooled on is how this dark chapter in history was shameful for the U.S. government. The ACLU of Virginia issued this statement about Bowers: "The government's denial of liberty and freedom to over 100,000 individuals of Japanese descent — many of whom were citizens or legal residents and half of whom were children — is a dark stain on America's history that Mayor Bowers should learn from rather than seek to emulate."

In 1988, when then President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to pay restitution to the surviving Japanese-American internees, he also issued a formal apology:

The Members of Congress and distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, we gather here today to right a grave wrong. More than 40 years ago, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living in the United States were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in makeshift internment camps. This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race, for these 120,000 were Americans of Japanese descent. Yes, the Nation was then at war, struggling for its survival and it's not for us today to pass judgment upon those who may have made mistakes while engaged in that great struggle. Yet we must recognize that the internment of Japanese-Americans was just that: a mistake. For throughout the war, Japanese-Americans in the tens of thousands remained utterly loyal to the United States. Indeed, scores of Japanese-Americans volunteered for our Armed Forces, many stepping forward in the internment camps themselves. The 442d Regimental Combat Team, made up entirely of Japanese-Americans, served with immense distinction to defend this nation, their nation. Yet back at home, the soldier's families were being denied the very freedom for which so many of the soldiers themselves were laying down their lives.

In September, President Barack Obama pledged to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees, pending stringent background checks by the State Department. However, not everyone is a fan, and at least 31 governors have spoken out against resettling Syrian refugees in their states. In the end, it will be the federal government that will make a decision about the Syrian immigration.

Here's Takei's post about Bower in its entirety:

Earlier today, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, Mr. David A. Bowers, in the attached letter, joined several state...

Posted by George Takei on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Related:
When Santa Anita Racetrack Was A Japanese Internment Camp Assembly Center
Video: George Takei Relates His Family's Humiliating Internment Camp Experience
A Trip to Manzanar: One of California's Japanese Internment Camps