On Wednesday, David Bowers, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, piled onto the backlash against Syrian refugees led by state governors, in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people. Bowers requested that all local agencies “suspend and delay any further Syrian refugee assistance until these serious hostilities and atrocities end…and normalcy is restored.” Then he attempted to draw this historical parallel:
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 is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.
Within hours, Bowers’s statement drew fierce criticism from several Roanoke city council members—who called his remarks “narcissistic” and “unrepresentative” of the local community. And then actor and social media sensation George Takei weighed in. The Star Trek cast member has long been outspoken about his family’s history inside American-held Japanese internment camps, a story chronicled in his Broadway musical, Allegiance.
In a searing open letter to Bowers on Wednesday afternoon—posted to Facebook—Takei called the remarks a “resort to fear-based tactics” and a “galling lack of compassion for people fleeing from these same terrorists.” The post received more than 9 million likes in one day.
From Takei’s Facebook page:
Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:
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 US 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.
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.
— George Takei
For more Takei greatness, read our 2012 interview with him, here.