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In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the authority of the US government to order the internment of a minority group in the interest of national security, even though there was no evidence that any members of this group were disloyal to the United States. Should the same policy be applied today against American Muslims or Muslim immigrants? Why or why not?

Quick answer:

No, the same policy used to intern Japanese Americans in the 1940s should not be applied against American Muslims or Muslim immigrants for several reasons: such a policy is likely to be roundly condemned in today's society, Muslims are a religious group and not a nationality, and Muslims as a whole pose no threat to US sovereignty.

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The Japanese internment camps that President Franklin D. Roosevelt created during World War II have been called “an ugly footnote in American history.” Decades later, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan offered an official apology to internment camp survivors as well as $20,000 each.

Considering the ignominy that these internment camps caused, it looks as if it wouldn’t be politically advantageous for a president to reinstitute internment camps for alleged security threats, whether from American Muslims, Muslim immigrants, or otherwise.

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, many feared that Trump would implement such a policy. Trump’s conspicuous Islamophobic rhetoric stoked worry that internment camps would return.

In the end, Trump did not bring back internment camps. While Trump did ban immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, his action was not a radical departure from past presidents. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Reagan instituted immigration bans during their respective presidencies.

In addition to the ban, Trump continued many of the harmful policies of Obama’s and George W. Bush’s administrations. Like his predecessors, Trump subjected Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants to intense surveillance and ordered drone strikes on Muslim-majority countries.

Taking the above into account, it’s possible to argue that the American government’s pattern of aggressive and intrusive actions towards Muslims and Muslim Americans represents a kind of modern reiteration of the internment camps of the 1940s.

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The notorious policy of internment of Japanese Americans is widely considered to constitute a stain on American history. The policy was patently unjust, as it punished innocent people simply on account of their ethnicity. It was also ineffective from a national security perspective for the simple reason that the Japanese American community was overwhelmingly loyal and did not therefore pose a threat to the country in wartime.

Using the example of Japanese-American internment, we can see that a similar policy used against Muslims today would be similarly immoral, unjust, and ineffective. What's more, it would be virtually impossible to carry out. Muslims are part of a religion, not an ethnic group. It would therefore be largely impossible for any government to argue that Muslims as a whole constitute a threat to national security.

A catch-all approach such as internment would lump innocent people together with the tiny minority of Muslims who represent a terrorist threat. Not only would such a policy be manifestly unfair, it would also divert time and resources away from the targeting of specific individuals engaged in terrorist activity.

The internment of Muslims would almost certainly damage the credibility of the United States as a defender of human rights abroad. In addition, it would undermine longstanding strategic relationships with Muslim countries, relationships that are fundamental to US national security.

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Although the United States might have a legal right to order the internment of Muslim immigrants, this would be unwise. First, common values in the United States have changed significantly since the 1940s. While we may still be a racist country, we are far less racist than we once were. The government internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, though supported at the time, has been widely condemned as overreach and a grave mistake in recent decades. Further, as currents event are showing, there is a growing consensus condemning harsh tactics against minority groups, as shown in the widespread protests of people of all races against the George Floyd killing. Governments that don't have the support of their people tend not to last long, even if the practices they engage in are technically considered legal.

Further, being Muslim is a religious rather than a national trait—and we have strong prohibitions in the First Amendment about discriminating against people on the basis of religious faith. A US citizen who happens to be Muslim should expect the same religious protections as a citizen of any other faith group. As it would be widely condemned to round up Jews as potential "enemies of the states" (a la Nazi Germany), so it would be wrong to round up Muslims. As for justifying interning Muslims of foreign extraction on nationalist grounds, such as that our country has declared war on their country, Muslims come to the United States from nations all over the world, including strong allies of the US. Casting a net that went after all non-citizen Muslims would therefore not make much sense and could be rightly seen as a human rights violation.

At the moment, too, we have no reason to conclude that Muslims as a group present a threat to US sovereignty. There may be Muslim extremists in this country, but there are also dangerous Christian extremists here too: that is not an excuse to intern all members of a religious faith. I know I would react badly to being thrown in a concentration camp for being a Christian because a few Christian extremists blew up a building—I imagine most Americans would feel the same way.

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The United States government should not be allowed to send Muslims in the country to internment camps. Muslim people are not a threat to national security, and even if they were, it is still a cruel, dehumanizing, and dangerous practice.

In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the government's decision to put Japanese people or people of Japanese descent in internment camps. This was allowed because the government was worried that Japanese people would act as spies for the Japanese government during World War II. There was no proof that they were acting as spies, just a widespread fear and panic that led to innocent Japanese people being forced to leave their homes and businesses. In the 1980s, the government issued an apology for the internment camps, but the trauma caused by such an extreme action can never be undone.

If the United States government decided to apply the same policy to Muslim people, it would be essentially be proclaiming the false and discriminatory statement that all Muslim people may be terrorists. This belief reflects a misunderstanding of the motivations for radical Islamic terrorism. The small number of actual terrorists who commit violent acts in the name of Islam are not adhering to a general belief in the religion. They are radicalized in groups that form their own conclusions from the religion’s teachings. Therefore, most Muslim people do not believe these radical ideas, and there is no reason why they would be a potential threat.

Applying this policy to Muslims would also almost certainly lead to a sharp increase in Islamophobia and xenophobia throughout the country and around the world. The policy would justify the criminalization and systemic discrimination of minority populations. This would likely encourage people to commit hate crimes against people from minority populations and lead to an increase in racist political rhetoric.

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