Campos: A dangerous argument

From the archive (legacy material)

Paul Campos | Rocky Mountain News | 4 January 2005

Daniel Pipes, the well-known neoconservative intellectual and director of the Middle East Forum, has just published an opinion piece in which he implies that the wholesale relocation of American citizens of the Muslim faith to internment camps might be a good idea.
Pipes doesn’t actually come right out and support internment camps for American Muslims, but his article (published originally in The New York Sun and reprinted in various other papers) casts a nostalgic glance back at the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and hints that we ought to consider similar steps in the context of the war on terrorism.
The immediate object of Pipes’ affections is a new book by Michelle Malkin, In Defense of Internment, which applauds the roundup and imprisonment of more than 120,000 ethnic Japanese, most of them American citizens, as a reasonable security measure in time of war.
Malkin’s book is an odious exercise in revisionist history, with a distinctly fascist tinge. She defends policies that have long been considered completely indefensible, using arguments that are often absurd on their face.
For instance, Malkin claims the previously uncontroversial view that the internment of Japanese- Americans was driven by racism is actually a product of left-wing distortions. Yet here is a typical quote from Gen. John DeWitt, the main proponent and organizer of the internment: “The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese, born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship have become Americanized, the racial strains are undiluted. . . . It therefore follows that along the Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies of Japanese extraction are at large today.”
For several decades, the internment camps have been universally condemned as a shameful instance of what can happen when the government encourages rather than resists war hysteria. (Conservative icon Antonin Scalia has called the Supreme Court case upholding the internments one of the two worst decisions in the court’s history, along with Dred Scott). But in the current hyper-nationalistic climate, all sorts of previously taboo arguments are slithering out into the open.
Malkin, predictably, characterizes her book as a courageous challenge to “political correctness” – a term that by now includes any argument that offends the fevered nationalistic fantasies books such as hers encourage.
It’s a sign of how much the political climate has changed that Ronald Reagan, who could hardly be charged with political correctness of any sort, delivered a formal apology to the victims of the internment camps in 1988, before authorizing the payment of $1.65 billion in reparations.
Now Daniel Pipes, who has claimed that American Muslims are uniquely dangerous because of their potential for disloyalty (a typical quote: “The Muslim population in this country is not like any other group, for it includes within it a substantial body of people . . . who share with the suicide hijackers a hatred of the United States.”) is taking advantage of this climate to suggest that “bothersome or offensive measures” such as internment camps may be the price “we” have to pay for security.
This is a dangerous argument. After all, none of the 9/11 hijackers were American – unlike, for example, Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols. It would be far more efficient to engage in what Malkin calls “threat profiling” by setting up internment camps for members of far-right political groups than for American Muslims. We can only hope that Malkin and Pipes would at least object to the former proposal.
American Muslims are not the first group to have their loyalty questioned merely because of their religious affiliation. Neoconservatives ought to keep that in mind.
Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached