What Would Washington Do About Sharia Law?

I will admit that the above title is probably unfair to Thomas Kidd’s excellent piece comparing contemporary fears of Muslims with 18th century fears of Catholics, but I hope the provocative title with draw more readers to Kidd’s article, which appears Thursday’s Christian Science Monitor.

Here is a taste:

…some Founders, including George Washington, rose above fear and realized that they needed to win Catholic allies, both in North America and in France itself. So General Washington forbade the celebration of “Pope’s Day,” Nov. 5, which had long featured the burning of the pope in effigy. (Nov. 5 commemorated the infamous “Gunpowder Plot” by Guy Fawkes, a Catholic, to blow up Parliament in 1605.)

On Nov. 5, 1775, Washington issued general orders condemning “that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the effigy of the pope.” American Catholics, he said, were among those “we ought to consider as brethren embarked in the same cause: the defense of the general liberty of America.” This generous attitude helped Americans win an alliance with France in 1778, without which they would have lost the Revolution.

Anti-Catholicism in America hardly ended with the French alliance, but today a new peril has taken the place of Catholicism. Anti-Muslim sentiment dates to the colonial period, as well, but it has taken on unprecedented fervor since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.