George Takei, known to millions of television viewers as Mr. Sulu on “Star Trek,” can empathize with Arab-Americans as the war in the Persian Gulf unfolds.
The Japanese-American actor knows what it is like to be shunned, vilified and scorned because of a far-away war that was none of his doing.
At the start of World War II, when he was 2 years old, Takei and his family were placed in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans and held--along with tens of thousands of others--until after the war ended in 1945. Then, growing up in Los Angeles, he was known as “that Jap kid.”
Takei said he prays history will not repeat itself.
“For this country to intern Iraqi-Americans because of what is happening in the Persian Gulf, a conflict that is none of their making, would be an outrage,” he said.
Takei said it was not just Iraqi-Americans, but all Arab-Americans, who face problems.
So far, the Bush Administration says it has no plans to establish internment camps.
Still, Takei expressed concern.
“I read this chilling report of the FBI descending on Arab-Americans and interviewing them, ostensibly for their protection,” he said.
“As it turned out, they were being questioned on their possible connections with terrorist organizations.
“My father was questioned in the same way, except in those days they used the word ‘sabotage’ instead of ‘terrorism.’
“Then came internment. Having lived through that experience, I know that we must not, cannot, repeat such a mistake.
“America is a nation that stands for certain principles and ideas. Indeed, that’s why we’re fighting in the Persian Gulf. That’s why American blood, and allied blood, is being spilled.
“Our soldiers are fighting for American ideals, and if we should abrogate those ideals here at home, that would be one of the most shameful and disrespectful things we could to do those soldiers.”
Terrorists, he said, should be punished, but the innocent must not be caught up in a frenzy of retribution.
“We have a system of due process and, if there is indeed a basis for suspicion, then suspects should be questioned by the FBI, whether they are Arab-Americans, Irish-Americans or, indeed, Japanese-Americans.
“They should be questioned and charged, if there appears to be a case against them, and tried and, if found guilty, they should be punished.
“But just because they are Arab-Americans, to descend on them and question them and to make them suspect can suddenly make their neighbors feel, well, there’s something wrong with the Hassams or the Habibs. I think that would be an outrage.”
Recalling his experiences, he said his time spent behind barbed wire in a camp outside Los Angeles did not affect him immediately.
“It was all I knew. When you’ve known nothing else but barbed wire, it is no more frightening than a chain-link fence surrounding a school yard,” he said.
But later, as he went through school, the effects of those four years became apparent, he said.
“At the time, I was too young to understand internment. But when you get into grade school and you start understanding something about your background, to a child being incarcerated behind barbed wire means being in jail, and people who have been put in jail are people who have done something bad.
“So I grew up with the feeling that there was something shameful about my background, something that I should feel somewhat guilty about,” he said.
“And it’s a terrible burden for a young boy growing up, to feel there is something wrong about himself,” he said.
“And I remember my teachers referring to me as ‘that Jap kid.’ ”