I’ve posted before on the sorry history of American xenophobia – it’s such an old story. Looking at the recent hysteria about the NY mosque we can see it’s with us still – and just as misguided as ever. In his column today at The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof looks at some history.
“Perhaps the closest parallel to today’s hysteria about Islam is the 19th-century fear spread by the Know Nothing movement about “the Catholic menace.” . . . there were whispering campaigns that presidents including Martin Van Buren and William McKinley were secretly working with the pope. . . . Critics warned that the pope was plotting to snatch the Mississippi Valley and secretly conspiring to overthrow American democracy. “Rome looks with wistful eye to domination of this broad land, a magnificent seat for a sovereign pontiff,” one writer cautioned.”
“In the 19th century, fears were stoked by books written by people who supposedly had “escaped” Catholicism. These books luridly recounted orgies between priests and nuns, girls kidnapped and held in secret dungeons, and networks of tunnels at convents to allow priests to rape nuns. One woman claiming to have been a priest’s sex slave wrote a “memoir” asserting that Catholics killed boys and ground them into sausage for sale. . . . These kinds of stories inflamed a mob of patriots in 1834 to attack an Ursuline convent outside Boston and burn it down.”
As my grandmother used to say: The more things change, the more they stay the same.