SAN DIEGO — Students at UC San Diego expressed shock and outrage last week when flyers with the heading “Instructions to All Persons of Islamic Belief” appeared on campus.
Patterned after posters distributed on the West Coast during World War II instructing Japanese Americans to prepare for forced removal and detention — telling them where to report and what they could take with them — the flyers replaced the words “Japanese ancestry” with “Islamic belief.”
The flyers, which were found at UCSD’s Thurgood Marshall College and Revelle College’s Argo Hall, read, in part: “All Muslim persons, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated from the above designated area by 12:00 o’clock noon Wednesday, April 8, 2017. No Muslim person will be permitted to enter or leave the above described area after 8:00 a.m., Thursday, April 2, 2017, without obtaining special permission from the Provost Marshal at the Civil Control Station.”
At the bottom, hand-written in red: “I am an American.”
Students interviewed by local media found the flyers offensive and wondered who put them up and why. Many assumed that the responsible party supports a roundup of Muslims.
As a precaution, the Muslim Student Association on campus alerted the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR) San Diego as well as the UCSD Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD).
On March 1, The Triton, an independent, student-run news source at UCSD, posted a message explaining the flyers. Although he wished to remain anonymous, The Triton verified that the writer created the flyers.
Apologizing for not making the meaning obvious enough and causing a “situation,” he wrote: “First, they are not anti-Muslim at all, I intended them to be sympathetic towards Muslim. I am a Japanese American myself, so the subject of internment has always meant a lot to me as a tragic event, especially since my own grandparents were forced into internment.
“The posters were meant to mimic the internment posters because I wanted to shock/anger people and to show them what could happen if they didn’t do anything to stop it. It was a warning presented as a possible future. I know this meaning doesn’t come across in the posters very well, but that is why I wrote in red ink at the bottom of each poster.
“Each poster has a message or subject that was supposed to get the viewer curious and begin researching internment, as well as send a message about internment. They included things such as Fred Korematsu, Executive Order 9066, Unit 442, as well as little messages comparing dates like ‘Feb. 19 1942, Jan. 27 2017.’ A couple even included statistics or quotes about refugees and how they are harmless.
“That was the other goal of this project, it was to make people educate themselves. I left many of the messages vague and with a loose connection to internment because I wanted to simply establish a connection between the situation of the Muslim people and the Japanese people, and then let the viewer arrive at their own conclusion.
“Though it looks like the messages, even the very obvious ones, were ignored and most people assumed they were anti-Muslim. I wasn’t necessarily after changing the world, I just wanted to add to the discussion, provide some information, and let people know that this had all happened before. This message becomes more and more apparent as one sees more posters, but sadly most of the posters have been torn down, and their messages erased. This, again, I recognize as my fault since I did not make their message obvious enough, which led people to think they were anti-Muslim.
“The article written about my posters made no mention of the writing at the bottom of each poster. Seeing how this is pretty key to the interpretation of the posters, I would like to ask that a new picture of the posters that includes the writing be put up. Though, again, I don’t necessarily blame you for not including the writing, seeing as how they were vague and almost not related, depending on which poster you saw.
“Finally, I would just like to apologize again for the misunderstanding, and to anyone that I have offended or hurt.”
In a Facebook post on March 2, Tarek Gouda, board chair of the Muslim Student Association at UCSD, wrote, “Despite that we now recognize that the individual who made the posters was well-intended and an ally of our community, we understand that these posters created real fear and tension amongst our members and members of the Japanese community on campus. The reaction that ensued from our student communities reminds us that internment camps have a very frightening, real, and personal history in this country. These are parts of our past that must be addressed and discussed properly.
“As an MSA board, we are moving forward as a community and urge each of you to do the same. We know there is a great amount of support for us on campus and believe that learning from this situation will be most beneficial. We remind everyone that now more than ever is a time to reach out to each other and other communities in bonds of friendship and support.”