Amid mosque dispute, Muslims can look to Irish-Catholics for hope
The planned Park51 Islamic center near ground zero is stirring up anger at Muslims. But reason and decency will prevail, and Muslims – like Irish-Catholics before – will overcome bigotry and be accepted into the American family.
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In many ways, Muslims are the new Irish. While they are spared the blatant bigotry of job ads that caution, “No Muslims need apply,” Muslims often feel the chill of their reception during job interviews, especially women wearing a scarf, or men with a beard and skullcap.Skip to next paragraph
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But the Irish narrative is also one of good cheer for the Muslims. They aren’t called “the fighting Irish” for nothing. The Irish pressed on. Slowly, they built some of the finest schools and colleges in our nation, as well as churches and charitable hospitals. They were hardworking and industrious, and their natural genius flourished in the opportunities afforded them in a free and open society.
As an Irish-Catholic, John Kennedy, challenged the sensibility of many Americans and their fear of a “papist” in office. Thanks to Kennedy’s passionate appeal to reason, sense prevailed, and most Americans overcame that prejudice. Now, Americans across the religious spectrum cheer Notre Dame football games, and St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by many Americans, Irish or not.
The American promise
In that same tradition, American Muslims today are challenging America to live up to its promise once again. Is this still the land of the free? Is this indeed the place that Thomas Jefferson said should be safe for “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination”?
Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of building a mosque near ground zero, this controversy now affords us an immense opportunity to examine who we are as a people. It provides us with the opportunity to get back to our foundational ideals, which have always stood as a beacon for the rest of the world. We are one people of many creeds and colors, united by a set of philosophical commitments, the greatest of which are the freedom of speech and religion. These two principles, embodied in the First Amendment, are at loggerheads today near ground zero.
May the conflict be civil, and may it let sense prevail.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated the opening of Zaytuna College.]