100 years ago, Americans talked about Catholics the way they talk about Muslims today. That is the title of a new article by German Lopez of Vox.
Time and time again, polls and surveys have found that the majority of Americans have unfavorable views of Islam. Consider the following: 1) Muslims are viewed by the majority of Americans with suspicion; 2) Islamophobes claim that sharia, or Islamic law, is about to supersede the Constitution; and 3) President-elect Donald Trump has called for a total ban on Muslim immigration and has even suggested a “Muslim registry” for those who identify themselves with the Islamic faith.
This kind of religious intolerance is nothing new if we consider the history of “Catholicophobia” in the United States. Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times reveals the extent of anti-Catholic sentiments. I quote Lopez’s summary of this article: “… there was a real fear among Protestant Americans back then that Catholics were planning to take over the country. As Pearce reported, the fears led to serious violence: Lynch mobs killed Catholic Italians, arsonists burned down Catholic churches, and there were anti-Catholic riots. It was a similar sentiment to the kind of Islamophobia today that’s led many Americans to call for shutting down mosques, forcing Muslims to register in a national database, and even banning Islam.”
Lopez continues: “The point of the comparison is not to say that the US faces the same problems today as it did a century ago, or that the discrimination toward Catholics back then and Muslims today is exactly the same. But when looking back at the history of the US, it’s easy to see a pattern of consistent xenophobia and fears of outsiders.”
The fear of Muslims today and Catholics throughout American history is a product of religious illiteracy, propaganda, hate industries, and self-serving politicians who prey on the fears of misinformed Americans. Religious pluralism, as discussed by Diane Eck of Harvard University, could be cultivated as a mechanism to help rid American society of the cancer that is religious intolerance.