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The politics of nativism directed at Catholic immigrants in 19th-century America offer a fruitful comparative perspective through which to analyze the discourse and the politics of Islam in contemporary Europe. Anti-Catholic nativism constituted a peculiar North American version of the larger and more generalized phenomenon of anti-immigrant populist xenophobic politics which one finds in many countries and in different historical contexts. What is usually designated as Islamo-phobia in contemporary Europe, however, manifests striking resemblances with the original phenomenon of American nativism that emerged in the middle of the 19th century in the United States. In both cases one finds the fusion of anti-immigrant xenophobic attitudes, perennial inter-religious prejudices, and an ideological construct setting a particular religious-civilizational complex in essential opposition to Western modernity. Although an anti-Muslim discourse emerged also in the United States after 11 September, it had primarily a geo-political dimension connected with the ‘war on terror’ and with American global imperial policies. But it lacked the domestic anti-immigrant populist as well as the modern secularist anti-Muslim dimensions. This explains why xenophobic anti-Muslim nativism has been much weaker in the United States than in Europe.

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