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America_s History of Fear

America_s History of Fear - America's History of Fear by...

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America’s History of Fear by Nicholas D. Kristof A radio interviewer asked me the other day if I thought bigotry was the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t. Most of the opponents aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers – and during earlier waves of intolerance in American history, it was just the same. Screeds against Catholics from the 19 th century sounded just like the invectives today against the Not-at-Ground-Zero Mosque. The starting point isn’t hatred but fear; an alarm among patriots that newcomers don’t share their values, don’t believe in democracy, and may harm innocent Americans. Followers of these movements against Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese and other immigrants were mostly decent, well-meaning people trying to protect their country. But they were manipulated by demagogues playing upon their fears – the 19 th and 20 th century equivalents of Glenn Beck. Most Americans stayed on the sidelines during these spasms of bigotry, and only a small number of hoodlums killed or tormented Catholics, Mormons or others. But the assaults were possible because so many middle-of-the-road Americans were ambivalent.
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