They didn’t get a warm welcome to America, and instead found themselves smack in the middle of the Nativist anti-Irish-Catholic riots of 1844, which left scores of people dead and two beautiful Catholic churches destroyed. The riots were prompted by false rumors that the Irish-Catholics wanted the Bible removed from public schools to ensure Protestant doctrine would not be taught to their children.
Ordinary Americans were appalled by the viciousness of the attacks, and their good sense prevailed. It eventually led to the famous consolidation of the city in 1854. But Irish-Catholics had still not arrived, and my great grandfather, Michael Hanson Jr., dropped the “O” from his Gaelic name and blended into Philadelphia society, going into partnership with the enlightened Jewish newspaper giant, Paul Block. And while he practiced his Catholicism openly, he hid his Irish ancestry even from his own children, to spare them the perceived shame of being Irish in upper class society.
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.
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.