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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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The controversy over the planned mosque near ground zero has devolved into an uncivil war between sense and sensibility. It’s a definitive dialectic between reason and emotion. Sense says: “Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda believe in a Manichean world of good versus evil, Islam versus America, but we know better. To repudiate that view we must assert that aspect of our national character that we cherish and they hate: religious pluralism."

Sensibility says: “This is adding insult to injury. How dare they?”

Sense responds: “How can you say ‘How dare they?’ when the American Muslims building the mosque are fighting the fanaticism and xenophobia of those who flew the planes into the twin towers?”

Sensibility says: “That’s what they say. They’re all alike.”

Reason cannot calm the storm of emotion, and emotion usually wins, until it settles down and allows reason to rise again and apologize on behalf of it. Americans are generally decent and fair people with a commitment to sense, but some of us, swept up by our passions, wade too far into a sea of sensibility.

Lessons from Irish-Catholics

We’ve seen this tragedy-and-triumph saga many times before in American history. Notably, the mid-19th century struggle of Irish-Catholics to be fully accepted as Americans should give today’s Muslims hope that their efforts to weather the storms of controversy and mistrust will bear fruit.

My great, great grandfather, Michael O’Hanson, fled the impending potato famine of Ireland and arrived in America in the early 1840s with his bride, Bridget. They headed for Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, and a mecca for Irish-Catholic immigrants then.

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