Interesting piece in the New York Times yesterday by Doug Saunders, author of “The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?.”
In it, Saunders notes the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. And it’s not limited to the rabid anti-Muslim campaign by the Rev. Terry Jones, or the infamously crude anti-Muslim video.
It’s not even the campaign by five GOP legislators, who this summer sent letters to five government agencies citing “serious security concerns” about what they called a “deep penetration in the halls of our United States government” by the Muslim Brotherhood.
It goes much deeper than those high-profile incidents, Saunders notes. In August, a mosque was burned down in Missouri and an acid bomb was thrown at an Islamic school in Illinois.
I have heard of anti-Muslim discrimination right here in York and that is a story I am working on.
While clearly wrong, it’s not hard to understand where the sentiment originates. Islam is not a religion understood by many Americans. That followers dress a little differently makes it more difficult to fit in our culture. And, of course, 9/11 is still fresh in our minds.
So while most Americans understand there are good and bad people among all religions and races, the acceptance of Muslims remains elusive.
When you consider the plight of Catholics, however, it provides a little context to the state of our relationship with Muslims in general, as well as a likely blueprint on where we are heading.
As Saunders notes:
From the 19th century on, distrust, violence and, eventually, immigration restrictions were aimed at waves of Roman Catholic immigrants.
As late as 1950, 240,000 Americans bought copies of “American Freedom and Catholic Power,” a New York Times best seller. Its author, Paul Blanshard, a former diplomat and editor at The Nation, made the case that Catholicism was an ideology of conquest, and that its traditions constituted a form of “medieval authoritarianism that has no rightful place in the democratic American environment.”
Catholics’ high birthrates and educational self-segregation led Mr. Blanshard and others — including scholars, legislators and journalists — to warn of a “Catholic plan for America.”
Then, as now, there seemed to be evidence supporting the charge. Majority-Catholic countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal and Austria, had fallen into fascism or extremism. Crime and educational failure were rife among the children of Catholic immigrants. In the years after World War I, Catholic radicals carried out a deadly wave of terrorist attacks in the United States.
The real story of Muslims in America is of success. Most are hard-working citizens in the mold of “Zeitoun,” the protagonist/hero of David Eggers’ nonfiction best-seller recounting the Syrian man who stayed behind to help people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
In time, we will come to accept Muslims without suspicion. Do you agree? Can you see the similarities between the Catholic route to acceptance in America and the current state of Muslim relations?