Islamophobia echoes early U.S. Anti-Catholicism

Junior Hina Ahmed has established the Muslim Student Association at UD. Photo by Paulina Martin.

As all UD students have learned in their studies, history tends to repeat itself. One topic that inspires a sense of déjà vu is the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric that is becoming prevalent in American politics. The arguments in favor of Islamophobia are the same ones my grandparents heard as Sicilian Catholics in 1920s California.

I know it’s hard to imagine because most of us were born in an age where the Vatican and America are on semi-warm terms but, historically, hating Catholics is about as American as baseball or winning World Wars.

The first instance of anti-Catholicism in the American identity comes from John Locke, the English inventor that Thomas Jefferson CNTRL+Ved a lot of his work from. In his “Letter Concerning Toleration” Locke argues that the only two groups of people who should not be granted tolerance are atheists and Catholics, because atheists have nothing they can swear on and Catholics would be loyal to the Pope over republican ideals. This was, of course, not adopted by the Founding Fathers because, somehow, a bunch of men from 1776 were more religiously tolerant than some politicians today. Go figure.

In 1834, a loudmouthed Protestant preacher by the name of Lyman Beecher began whipping up anti-Catholic fervor which would often lead to violence. This culminated in a pamphlet entitled “A Plea For the West” in which Beecher argued that Catholics should not be allowed to settle in the new territories. According to Beecher, Catholicism is incompatible with Republican values. Almost all the monarchs and despotic regimes of the time were Catholic. He even argued that Catholics would try to turn America into a Catholic nation and surrender our codes of law to the Pope. But don’t worry, folks, Beecher wasn’t being a bigot. He was merely keeping the nation secure.

The 20th century brought less creative anti-Catholicism, but it was far more widespread. Catholics were lynched, the KKK burnt down churches, and every Protestant politician that even dared to mention the Vatican was quickly driven from office.

In the wake of terrorism, some may think that Muslims and Catholics are like apples and oranges. Anti-Catholicism can just be chalked up to random discrimination of 18th, 19th and 20th century America while Islamophobia is more justified. Muslims attacked the World Trade Center and unleashed numerous terror attacks on American soil. Well, ignoring some of the realities of terrorism (which I will probably address in some future article) we have to ask.

Was anti-Catholicism unjustified?

Of course it seems unjustified to a 21st century American but let’s look at the relationship between America and the Catholic World. During the 19th century the tyrannical despots of the world were almost all Catholic monarchs. The Irish brigades of the British Army were front and center during the American Revolution, actively fighting revolutionary forces throughout the war. Relations with Catholic France immediately disintegrated after 1783, the U.S. went to war with Spain and Mexico, the Vatican harbored an attempted presidential assassin, we fought Cuba and the Philippines, and hopped over the Atlantic to fight Italy a few months later.

The ultimate say in the matter is that a ban on Muslims serves no purpose besides placating bigotry. The first and foremost issue would be its complete ineffectiveness. Immigrants are already vetted by the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security and the Departments of State and Defense, and there is nothing stopping people from identifying themselves as Christians on their religious screening test. Even further, when the nations that are sacrificing more than anyone in the war against ISIS are Muslim, telling them “Hey, thanks for your sacrifice and working with us but keep your type out of our country” doesn’t exactly foster cooperation.

In a day and age where 45 percent of Americans view Catholics unfavorably, where the presidential nominee of a major political party accuses his opponent of being Catholic and attacks the Pope all while regularly dipping into anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Jewish rhetoric and far right news sources encourage violence, can we as Catholics really afford to abandon our brothers of the Abrahamic trinity? Can we afford to encourage this type of hatred from a group of people who could just as easily turn on us at the slightest provocation or dissent? We must stand by the principles of our founders, we must stand by the principles of our Church and we must fight against discrimination, especially when it is the type with which our faith is far too familiar.



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