Welcome Back to Manzanar

In South’s version of 2032, our hero Luis helps American Muslims go south across the border into the relative safety of civil war-wracked Mexico to escape from the detention camps that have swallowed 430,000 of their co-religionists.

How did this happen? How could it happen?

Manzanar gate house, by teofilo
Manzanar gate house, by teofilo

It has before. Unless you’ve been living on Mars for the past couple generations, you already know about the imprisonment of over 120,000 ethnic Japanese in “internment camps” following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Sixty-three percent of these concentration-camp inmates were native-born Americans, and the rest were legal aliens. The Supreme Court upheld both the race-specific curfews (Hirabayashi v. U.S.) and the imprisonment itself (Korematsu v. U.S.), based in part on lies and false intelligence presented by the Department of Justice. So yes, it has happened here, within living memory.

It’s worth reading the full text of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt on 19 February 1942. (It’s short; I’ll wait.) It’s a model of bureaucratic blandness. Reading it, even knowing what followed, it’s hard to find anything objectionable in it. Yet EO 9066 was the basis for the curfews, then the dispossession and incarceration of 120,000 innocents, none of whom were ever convicted of espionage or sabotage.

Unfortunately, it’s part of a long history of demonizing a visible minority and using its members as whipping boys for the evil du jour. Everybody gets their turn in the barrel: Germans, Irish, Native Americans, Italians, Catholics, Slavs, Asians, Mormons, Jews, blacks, Latinos, and Muslims have all served as the bogeyman at one point or another in American history. (This isn’t just an American trait; ethnic and religious hatred is unfortunately a global disease.) Today, the acceptable mainstream targets of prejudice in America are Latinos and Muslims, as we see every day.

What Happens in the Future?

In South, the America of 2032 is triggered on 19 October 2019, when a terrorist bombing of Wrigley Field during the National League playoffs kills 1100 and injures over 3000. The FBI arrests four Yemeni landscapers early in the investigation; news of their arrest sparks off a nationwide wave of anti-Muslim hysteria and hate crimes.

Far-fetched? No – it’s just a larger version of what happened after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The FBI held four Moslems early in the investigation, while the media, pundits and politicians whipped up a storm of suspicion targeting American Muslims. Several hundred instances of hate crimes against Muslims (including a spate of attacks on mosques) were reported in the weeks following the Murrah Building’s destruction, even after Tim McVeigh’s arrest. (It’s interesting – and disturbing – to note that even today, far-right groups are trying to “prove” Islamic terrorists destroyed the Murrah Building.) The pattern repeated itself in 2001 following 9/11, and again in 2003 in the runup to the Iraq invasion, including mosque attacks, home burnings, beatings and shootings.

In both 1995 and 2001, the authorities tried with varying success to tamp down the anti-Muslim reaction. In South, the rightist President and his administration play it up, and as in 1941, the media, demagogues and grandstanding politicians whip up a frenzy demanding action against American Muslims. This leads to a 2019 version of EO 9066, the January 2020 passage of the revised Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA) and ever-more-egregious attacks on the civil rights of American Muslims, leading to mass imprisonments in “detention camps” that pop up on government-owned land all over the western U.S.

(At this point, some number of you are saying “that can never happen” while others are saying “finally — why did it take so long?” If your reaction is the former, take a look at the rightist political blogs on the Web if you believe none of this is possible.)

Remember that under DSEA, the definition of “terrorism” is expanded even more than it already has been, and U.S. citizens can be stripped of their citizenship for association with “terrorist organizations.” As DOJ gradually widens the number of activities that qualify as terrorism and declares more Islamic groups to be terrorists or sympathizers, more American Muslims fall into Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) net. Once arrested, they can be stripped of their citizenship and held as enemy combatants with no standing to contest their imprisonment.

In reaction, hundreds of thousands of American Muslims flee the country for Canada, Mexico and Europe. Canada and the EU impose strict visa requirements on Americans, both because of the exodus and in retaliation for similar moves on the part of the U.S. government; fluctuating control of Mexican border stations makes crossing legally into Mexico a crap shoot. Also, Customs and Border Protection begins screening people crossing into Canada and Mexico, ostensibly for safety reasons but also to catch people fleeing the camps.

By 2032, the number of American Muslims has dwindled to less than 800,000 (from 2.6 million in 2010). The ones who remain lead very closeted lives (as did the Jews of pre-WWII Germany), waiting for ICE’s knock on the door. During this decade-long purge, the Mexican drug cartels discover there’s profit to be made in smuggling Muslims into Mexico, just as there once was profit in smuggling Mexicans and Central Americans into the U.S. Many of these emigrants have money, many are useful professionals, and the men often have military experience, all of which the cartels welcome. Enter Luis, and we’ve come full circle.

If you think back to some of the political rhetoric following 9/11 and the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, today’s continued mosque burnings, the state laws banning Sharia law and so on, you’ll hear the echoes of the anti-Japanese hysteria of 1942, which itself was a recasting of decades of anti-Japanese bigotry and harassment in the western U.S.

I hope this plot point in South is just a wild flight of fancy on my part. I wish it was unbelievable. In this as well as many of my other predictions, I hope I’m dead wrong.

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