August 20, 2010

WE'VE BEEN GIVEN A GREAT GIFT:

Ground Zero mosque fight shows how little we've learned from U.S. history (Edward Schumacher-Matos, August 20, 2010, Washington Post)

In 1834, the convent and school were burned in an anti-Catholic riot by local Protestant men, drunk with alcohol and paranoia. For good measure, the men returned the next night, found the sacred altar tabernacle hidden under a rose bush and burned it, too.

Boston Mayor Theodore Lyman condemned the riots and sought to promote inter-religious dialogue, but public opinion blew in another direction. A jury acquitted the ringleaders, and for more than a decade the Massachusetts Legislature refused to pay indemnification.

No plaque commemorates the forgotten site. [...]

Newt Gingrich went to high school with me in Columbus, Ga. We share personal history, but I wonder what books inspire this self-styled intellectual today when he likens Muslims to Nazis and the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor. "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia," he said recently, as if we should govern ourselves by Saudi standards.

But Gingrich is not the only poor student of American history.

In the 1930s, as the real Nazis were murdering Jews, American Jewish and ecumenical leaders pressed President Franklin Roosevelt to lift immigration quotas or allow desperate German and Austrian Jews to come as refugees.

Nativist Southern and Western legislators were adamantly opposed. According to a 1938 Fortune magazine poll, 86 percent of Americans agreed that there should be no emergency quota increases to aid "German, Austrian and other refugees."


How many times in your history classes did you feel that twinge of shame at the stuff our ancestors did and hope that we would do better? Today we're in the midst of a moment we all know in our hearts we'll be ashamed of in twenty years--like the anti-Japanese ravings of the mid-80s--and so we each have the opportunity to refuse to go along with the lynch mob this time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 20, 2010 6:17 AM
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