A funny thing is happening in academia and the media. All of a sudden Muslims are being compared to Italian Americans. The so-called alt-left has decided to soothe America’s fears of Muslim immigration by holding up the Italian American experience as an example of how terrorists can become docile citizens.
As the story goes, among the unwashed masses vomited from impoverished Italy were violent Anarchists who planted bombs in their adopted country and assassinated world leaders. No argument there, they did. Both Anarchists and Mafiosi have besmirched the reputation of millions of decent Italian Americans. Their violent actions are still embarrassing to recount, made worse by the institutionalized Mafia-movie genre. The only problem with the analogy that it is insultingly flawed. Dragging out the negative Italian past to serve the Muslim cause leaves quite a bit out of our real story.
Muslims didn’t create Western Civilization. Muslims didn’t develop Humanism. Muslims didn’t perfect engineering or the fine arts. Muslims didn’t discover America. Muslims didn’t explore America or help build it. Muslims didn’t serve by the hundreds of thousands in America’s military, nor did they die by the tens of thousands in its wars. Muslims haven’t been lynched by the score like Italian immigrants. They didn’t bring to America customs and a cuisine that have hugely enriched this country. Muslims haven’t been subjected to Hollywood defamation on a daily basis on a relentless scale.
It is rare, indeed, for the media or academia to acknowledge Italian American contributions, rather than their sins. Still rarer is the media’s concern for anti-Italian violence – like the lynching on March 14, 1891 of eleven Italians in New Orleans, or the wholesale eviction of 10,000 Italian Americans from the West Coast in 1942 – to this day not an apology or cent in reparations has been offered. Instead, our ethnic legacy has been taken to the woodshed of American history and beaten flat as cardboard. If space aliens tuned into our media they would wonder why Italians were ever invited to this nation. To wit: Christopher Columbus wiped out two continents worth of Indigenous peoples; the Mafia is still the root of all evil; whoever wasn’t a Mafioso or Anarchist was probably a Fascist during the 1930s; and the worse nightmare for African Americans is passing through an Italian neighborhood. Italian characters remain the shorthand for Hollywood scriptwriters looking for jerks, crooks, or crude neighbors. What indignities have Muslims suffered in our media? They already have the epic Lawrence of Arabia to romanticize their past. Hollywood wouldn’t dare smear or ridicule Muslims today.
The truth is, except for Trump-talk, Muslims have become a protected species in the media, along with myriad other groups in this country. Trotting out Italian immigrants to give Muslims cover is perpetuating our stereotypes. We already have GoodFellas and the Godfather trilogy, thank you. -JLM