March 28, 2016

Sen. Mazie Hirono Is A Welcome Counter To The Voices Of Intolerance

In response to the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, the two leading GOP presidential candidates are again calling to ban Muslims from entering the United States and to “patrol and secure” predominantly Muslim neighborhoods in our own country.

Clearly we need other voices in our national conversation on homeland security and Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono has become an increasingly vocal and thoughtful presence in foreign policy discussions

Given her role on both the Senate Armed Services Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, she’s in critical conversations where her voice counts.

Hirono met with the Civil Beat Editorial Board last week, two days after the attack in Belgium that left 35 dead and injured hundreds.

It was, depressingly, yet another horrific suicide bombing from the monsters at ISIS.

As with the group’s attacks that killed 130 last November in Paris last, the latest bombing set off a wave of dramatic police action, as investigators swept Brussels and surrounding areas, arresting scores of individuals with suspected ties to the attack.

Reaction was hardly limited to Belgium. Security around mass transit systems and border crossings was heightened throughout Europe.

The reaction in Belgium and neighboring countries seemed to be paying off: More than 20 individuals were taken into custody with alleged ties to the attack or are suspected of playing significant roles in ISIS.

This came as U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on Friday that U.S. special forces had killed ISIS’ top finance official in eastern Syria, the latest of several senior ISIS officials successfully targeted, as the United States works to degrade the leadership of the terrorist organization.

Such times of unspeakable violence, military and law enforcement drama and chilling fear among the people of some of our strongest ally nations call for verbal restraint and sober judgment from our leaders. But those watching the Republican presidential primary play out got quite the opposite.

Taking a break from catty bickering over each others’ wives, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump and second-place candidate Ted Cruz offered their thoughts on how America ought to respond to the Belgium attacks.

Trump not only renewed his call to ban Muslims from entering the country, he came out for a reintroduction of the illegal torture tactic of waterboarding, and in the process, insulted Brussels, calling it a once-beautiful “disaster city” and an “armed camp.”

Not to be outdone, Cruz countered that U.S. law enforcement ought to be “empowered to patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods in our own country “before they become radicalized.” This is the same guy who has relentlessly threatened to carpet bomb ISIS “to find out if sand can glow in the dark.”

National security and Muslim leaders around the country condemned Cruz’s response, with Muslim U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota accusing Cruz ofexploiting the Brussels attacks for “electoral gain.”

That a presidential frontrunner and a sitting U.S. senator find it appropriate to toss around indiscriminate verbal hand grenades in such difficult times is disconcerting, but hardly a surprise to anyone who’s been following the slow-motion disaster of the Republican primary process this season.

Party leaders now grudgingly rallying around Cruz as the establishment alternative to Trump must wonder how far this campaign can deteriorate without leaving damage to the GOP that will take years to repair.

Values Rooted in Compassion, Respect

Hirono was among many in Washington paying close attention to the arguments put forward by Trump and Cruz. And she didn’t mince words in condemning them.

“To say that an entire group of people aren’t welcome in our country or that we’re going to provide a different kind of surveillance because of someone’s religion is simply unacceptable,” she said. “To paint an entire group of people with that brush — one would think we would have learned not to do that. That’s racist.”

Hirono is no Pollyanna on this subject. After listening to the classified briefings she has her own concerns, particularly with regard to ISIS’ ability to inspire “lone wolves,” and the difficulty in identifying such thugs before they attack.

“They can motivate people through social media, which they’re really good at,” she said.

But comments like Trump’s reminiscence for the good old days of waterboarding creates fertile ground for the terror organization. Hirono called his remarks  “astounding” — particularly since waterboarding has been deemed unconsitutional.

Last month, Hirono spoke out similarly in support of a congressional resolution she introduced marking the 74th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, nearly 4,000 of them in Hawaii. The resolution affirmed the necessity of standing against intolerance, and in her floor remarks, Hirono noted the similarities of the attacks on Japanese Americans to exclusionary comments — like those of Trump and Cruz — being heard today.

Groups such as the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans and Council on American Islamic Relations praised the measure, which drew support from 10 such organizations concerned with the safety of immigrant communities in the United States. Nineteen Senate colleagues joined Hirono in co-introducing the resolution, including Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden.

It bears remembering that the resolution was introduced only weeks after Trump made headlines for saying he might have supported Japanese-American internmentduring World War II. His words must have been ringing in Hirono’s ears as she spoke in favor of her resolution on the Senate floor; like Trump today, Executive Order 9066 enjoyed strong support in 1942 from a frightened and angry public.

“Today we hear echoes of the same sentiments directed toward members of the South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Arab, and Middle Eastern communities,” she said. “Let’s stand together in solidarity in our American values that are rooted in compassion, respect for others, justice and equality.”

The only member of Congress who is an immigrant, Hirono brings a perspective to international relations and defense well informed by her own experience. Her voice may not be loud enough to drown out Trump and Cruz’s bellowing, but in the rooms where her work is done, her colleagues would benefit from listening. 

Source: Civil Beat