Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Anti-Islam is the new Anti-Catholicism

  • 25 September 2014

I was delighted to read in Eureka Street Ruby Hamad’s passionate protest that she and other Muslims should not constantly be called to account for the vicious behaviour of IS. Still less to be stigmatised until unnamed Muslim leaders disowned it.  I was disconcerted to see so many Eureka Street readers appeared to agree with the demands against which she protested.

Both Ruby’s complaint and the responses to it reminded me of the attitudes taken to Catholics in an earlier generation. The popular charges against Catholics were honed in the Great War and particularly by the referenda on Conscription. They combined suspicion of anything Irish in the aftermath of the 1916 Uprising and more traditional judgments of Catholics on the basis of their beliefs and practices. The case went something like this.

The Uprising was seen as a traitorous blow to the English war effort which indicated a broader Irish disloyalty to the Crown. Archbishop Mannix’s leadership of the opposition to conscription and his outspoken criticism of the treatment of Ireland by the English Government fuelled further attacks on the patriotism of Australian Catholics, most of whom were of Irish descent. This charge echoed the broader historical attack on Catholics in England that their subjection to the Pope was incompatible with their loyalty to the King. So they and their Bishops were called on to declare their loyalty.

Of course, the fire was also fed with other dried out chestnuts. Catholics, after all, were responsible for the Inquisition, the Crusades, the St Bartholomew Day Massacre, witch burning, the later Falangist regime in Spain, and other Evil Acts. Their leaders were called on to abjure them, too. Totally and repeatedly – no room for muttering about historical context.  And of course then there were such Evil Catholic Practices as clerical celibacy practiced publicly on the city streets, clerical tyranny as displayed by a lunatic parish priest in Bandiwallop West, the ringing of the Angelus bells early in the morning, running their own school system and having the temerity to expect that good Australians would tolerate being nursed by Catholic Nuns during the flu epidemic.  

And then there was Papal Infallibility, which meant that all Catholics were bound to accept every Papal statement, no matter how taken out of context. Since these included Papal condemnation of charging interest on loans and of democracy, Australian Catholics were also demanded to abjure these statements that subverted the