Muslim Pilgrimage to Manzanar


In April 2008, the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) led a group of over 100 Southern California Muslims on an educational trip to Manzanar, the first Japanese internment camp established during World War II.  Along with Southland Muslims, some 1,500 people from California and beyond attended the 39th Annual Pilgrimage to Manzanar.

Munira Syeda, Communications Coordinator, CAIR-LA: The CAIR organized this pilgrimage to educate ourselves as to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

Jim Matsuoka, Former Internee and NCRR (Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress) Member: When I see the Muslim American community demonized, it just strikes me as, my gosh, we’re back to 1941 and this is something I’ve seen before.  In those days, people were afraid of the Japanese, you know, because they had the images of these banzai charges and people with swords coming at you.  We were like demons to them.

Karen Ishizuka, NCRR 9/11 Committee Member and Filmmaker: The incarceration of Japanese Americans didn’t really happen because of Pearl Harbor.  From the beginning of immigration, there was a mounting anti-Japanese, anti-Asian sentiment.

Ben Segawa, Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego: Pearl Harbor was bombed, not LA, not San Francisco.  Why didn’t they intern all those Japanese in Hawaii?  They wanted to get rid of us on the West Coast because we were too highly successful.

Robert A. Nakamura, NCRR 9/11 Committee Member and Filmmaker: Pearl Harbor just gave everyone an excuse.  The country was racist and is still racist.

“People lost their businesses and lost their homes.  You know, they lost everything.”

“They literally went through the orphanages in California and took out any child with any amount of Japanese blood.”

Hussam Ayloosh, Executive Director, CAIR-LA: We are all here to remember the sad and dark chapter of the history of our nation.  By remembering it, our goal is not to dwell on the past, but rather to make sure it never happens again.

Sharaf Mowjood, Government Relations Coordinator, CAIR-LA: It’s not just remembrance, it’s an action.  It’s like coming here to renew your battery as to why this is what happened not too long ago.

“Islamophobia is rampant, and it’s the only form of racism and discrimination that goes unchallenged in our society.”

“Not doing anything would be the worst insult to the past.”

“We can’t expect the government to do it.  It needs to come from us.  It needs to come from the community.”

Basim Elkarra, Executive Director, CAIR-Sacramento Valley: When you have coalitions and you work with others, others will come to defend you, and I always tell the Muslim community that you have to reach out to others, so, in times of hardship, they’ll defend you, your neighbors will defend you, churches, community organizations.

“You have to get over the idea of being inferior that they put on us.  You should really stand up to that.”

“The Constitution is not self-activating.  All these freedoms that we have, you have to step up and speak out to protect them.”

Affad Shaikh, Civil Rights Coordinator, CAIR-LA: When we don’t stand up, and someone’s being denied their rights, then we’re really allowing ourselves to lose our rights as well.

“I hope this trip is going to build in us the sense of commitment that there are bigger things than ourselves, than our families, and than even our own community.  Some of the closest allies of the American Muslim community today actually are the Japanese Americans community, because they made a commitment to themselves that ‘we are not going to allow for this to be done to other groups.’  What we are facing today as a community is going to be a temporary thing, insh’allah.  Eventually, we are going to be accepted.  Five years from now, ten years form now, we will be like the way other minorities are.  Are we going to become silent when we see others being treated the same way we’re being treated today?”

The quotations above are excerpts from this documentary.   Click here to watch its trailer.