People claim to know the face of the enemy. Some wrongly believe we are under attack by terrorists everywhere, they have infiltrated our communities, they might be our neighbors. The proper course of action, they contend, is to flush them out and identify them by the faces they wear.
This misguided thinking results in branding anyone who looks like a Muslim as evil. It happened recently in Fresno when an elderly Sikh man was beaten because he wore a turban. Throughout the country, scores of people are harassed and intimidated because some think they look like the enemy.
But Muslims are not our enemy. And no one characteristic identifies an adversary. You can’t single out a terrorist by their appearance.
In December 1941, the faces of my family changed. My dad was a senior in high school and played on the basketball team. My mom was 14 and had crushes on boys. They worked the fields of California with family, helping grow fruits and vegetables for the nation. But they were labeled as the enemy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were guilty of looking like the enemy.
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I know this because of racist and ludicrous articles published in Life and in Time. Both magazines, in December 1941, ran stories to help Americans identify the good guys from the bad guys, according to the way they looked. The articles were entitled: “How to Tell Japs From the Chinese” and “How To Tell Your Friends from the Japs.”
Each publication examined faces and body types in order to empower Americans with the skill to classify people, even though a majority had never seen or met a Japanese American. Reading these articles decades later seems like a joke, a satire of misguided intentions. It would be funny, except the intentions were real.
Life magazine had photographs comparing a Chinese diplomat to Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. Time printed “Rules of Thumb” with idiotic ways to discern between Asians. Chinese are tall; virtually all Japanese are short. Japanese are stockier and broader hipped. Japanese (except for wrestlers) are seldom fat. Japanese eyes are closer set. Japanese walk stiffly erect, hard-heeled. Chinese are more relaxed with easy gait.
These bigoted articles attempted to explain how to segregate good Americans from enemies. The stories were trying to help reduce threats to “our friends” – the Chinese in America.
Anyone who believes the magazines were justified in making such lists, you are wrong. No one can identify the content of a person’s character by their physical characteristics. No one should judge a person by their face or body. No one can determine good from evil by the slant of their eyes, the color of their skin or the clothes they wear.
Yes, evil people have killed and injured many in the U.S. and in the world, and we must seek to prevent such acts. We should be aware. But it’s a leap to accuse anyone who “looks like the enemy,” jump to conclusions and call for action based on someone’s physical traits.
I ask again: What does the enemy look like? In 1941, could you separate friends from the enemy? We were also at war with Germany and Italy. How could you single out good Germans or Italians from bad ones?
A few years ago, in a response to the anti-Muslim assaults perpetrated on those who “look like Muslims,” a misguided article attempted to educate the public about the difference between a Sikh’s turban and that of a traditional Muslim. The flaw with this approach is that it sanctions hatred of all Muslims. It proclaims that Sikh turbans are OK; Muslim turbans are bad.
The enemy are those who promote hate and harm of others, not those with Asian features or turbans. Evil should never be tolerated. We are in an era where our guard must be vigilant. But that does not mean we become vigilantes who judge others by the faces they wear.
David Mas Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and award-winning author of books, including “Epitaph for a Peach.”