A historical perspective on fear of others

Roy Saigo is leaving Southern Oregon University better than he found it. We're pleased he's planning to stay in Ashland as he resumes the retirement he interrupted to serve as SOU's interim president.

Saigo took on the task as the university was struggling with budget cuts that eliminated degree programs and faculty positions, and he handled the job with aplomb and goodwill. In the process, he began changing the culture of SOU, taking immediate steps to prevent students from dropping out before completing a degree and getting diverse groups of university staff to work together as a team.

Saigo was anything but a caretaker, and SOU has been lucky to have him.

Beyond his obvious skills as a university administrator, Saigo's personal story as a veteran of a World War II relocation camp for Japanese-Americans holds lessons Americans need to hear as much today as in 1945, when his family returned to California to encounter what he described as "intense hostility."

Recent incidents involving racist hate speech in Ashland have highlighted the issue locally, and racism has once again become a topic of debate across the country. Meanwhile, terrorist attacks here and around the world by adherents to a radical Islamic ideology has caused some to suggest that all of Islam — and all Muslims — are suspect.

Saigo's experience as a young boy in the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona is more than 70 years in the past, but the same fears that drove the United States government to incarcerate 130,000 people, two-thirds of them citizens, because the U.S. was at war with Japan are still being stoked today — by a presidential nominee.

The relocation of so many people simply because of their ethnicity is now viewed as a shameful chapter in the history of a country founded on ideals of freedom, equality and the rule of law. But one of the candidates for the highest office in the land has called at various times for barring Muslims from moving to this country or traveling here, and even said he would support creating a database of Muslim-American citizens and require them to register and to carry cards identifying them as Muslim. All because some enemies of the U.S. are Muslim.

That sounds disturbingly similar to the rationale for rounding up Japanese-Americans in World War II.

On Thursday, in a speech to the Democratic National Convention, Muslim-American Khizr Khan talked about losing his son, Capt. Humayun Khan of the U.S. Army, who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq while protecting the soldiers under his command. His point was that Muslim citizens of the U.S. are every bit as patriotic and devoted to their country as anyone else.

To question Americans' loyalty because they are Muslim makes about as much sense as locking up citizens because they are Japanese. And those actions aren't just senseless. They're un-American.

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