Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Drawing parallels between the Syrian and Irish refugee crises


I was traveling on my way to New York City to see the St. Patrick’s Day Parade last Thursday when the radio announced the fifth anniversary of the start of the Syrian war. The war has left 4.6 million Syrians as refugees, begging for safety from any country that will take them. It was in that moment that I was reminded of the Irish famine and how over 2 million were forced to leave the country of their origin to find a better life. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 33.3 million Americans, about 10% of the population, reported having Irish ancestry.  Personally, I was struck by the eerie parallels between the Syrian refugee crisis and the results of the Irish famine nearly 200 years ago.

There are certain traditions ascribed to the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day in America, like drinking green beer, wearing green apparel and listening to the Dropkick Murphys. Two hundred years ago, however, the Irish were not celebrating but rather fighting off starvation. The primary crop that many Irish farmers and tenants subsisted on, the potato, was plagued by a fungus that made it inedible. Over the course of the famine, which lasted from 1844 until 1852, it is estimated that as many as one million Irish people starved to death. By comparison, the Syrian Crisis has claimed the lives of over 250,000 so far, according to the United Nations in 2015.

Over a million Irish people died, but many more immigrated to have a better life. From 1820 to 1860 almost two million Irish immigrants arrived in the United States, where they eventually became a huge part of the population. Many came to America wearing outdated clothing, speaking only in strong Irish accents or Gaelic, and having little to no money.  Because of their financial circumstances, they often could not move out west and had to stay on the east coast in cities that the ships brought them to. They took the worst jobs, which paid very little and were extremely dangerous. Many found that military service was the only way to get steady money that they could send back to their families as well as acceptance from the native community.

Much like we have Islamophobia today, Americans had Hibernophobia then, a similar sentiment for the Irish. The Irish were often depicted as drunken monkeys who were inferior to the Anglo-Saxons. The disclaimer NINA (No Irish Need Apply) could be seen in some advertisements. In fact, many groups viewed the Irish as a class below slaves, because they believed slaves provided value while the Irish did not. The Irish were targets of racism, persecution, bigotry and oppression, much like many Muslims face today with Quran book burnings and extreme violence.

The Irish have come a long way in this country to the point that they have become a large part of the American story and culture. However as a country we still let hatred and fear build walls around us to many other groups seeking asylum. We are letting our ignorance condemn thousands of impoverished people to death because of the actions of a few. Some might see certain Syrians as potential terrorists bent on the total destruction of the U.S., when in actuality they are simply ordinary people who want to find peace and a better life for their children, much like the Irish did not too long ago. When will there be an equivalent of a St. Patrick’s Day for the Syrians?

Nicholas Kinsman is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • A

    ArafatMar 29, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Oh…and then there is this trivial detail:

    “A detailed analysis of FBI statistics covering ten full calendar years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks reveals that, on a per capita basis, American Muslims, contrary to spin, have been subjected to hate crimes less often than other prominent minorities. From 2002 to 2011, Muslims are estimated to have suffered hate crimes at a frequency of 6.0 incidents per 100,000 per year – 10 percent lower than blacks (6.7), 48 percent lower than homosexuals and bisexuals (11.5), and 59 percent lower than Jews (14.8). Americans should keep these numbers in mind whenever Islamists attempt to silence critics by invoking Muslim victimhood.”

    “No class of hate crimes has seen more fluctuation than anti-Muslim ones. The norm was a few dozen incidents per year in the late 1990s, but the number jumped from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001, a spike attributed to post-9/11 backlash. However, it dropped to 155 in 2002 and held remarkably steady through 2006, before falling again to 115 in 2007, 105 in 2008, and 107 in 2009.”

    “As hinted above, the dark portrait of America as a nation of violent bigots uniquely hostile to Muslims does not withstand quantitative scrutiny. To smooth out year-to-year variations, consider the past decade (2002–11) of FBI-recorded hate crimes. There were 1,388 incidents against Muslims during this span, compared with 25,130 against blacks; 12,030 against homosexuals and bisexuals; 9,198 against Jews; and 5,057 against Hispanics. Even majority whites endured 7,185 incidents, while Christians (Protestants and Catholics combined) were targeted in 1,126 incidents.”

  • D

    David Hunt 1990Mar 29, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Last I was aware, the Irish didn’t rape, rob, and even murder in the broad scale.

    You people condemn the “rape culture”. With these “refugees” – you’re IMPORTING a rape culture.

  • R

    RJMar 29, 2016 at 10:07 am

    This is the type of uncritical thought which demonstrates the pervasiveness of the lack of alternative viewpoints on the college campus. It is filled with straw men and false parallels and devoid of factual examples. Muslims in America today do not face widespread Quran burnings or physical violence. Yes, there is some, but this is a violent society and the acts against Muslims are not statistically different than the violence in society at large. When you factor in Muslim violence/terrorism in America against mainly Christians (not to mention Europe, Middle East and Africa), it is far more significant.

    The statement that “in actuality they are simply ordinary people who want to find peace and a better life for their children” is also an unsupportable fallacy. While it may be true that many refugees are that, it is also true that many, many terrorists are hiding amongst them to infiltrate the West.

    How about highlighting the differences in America and our needs from 200 years ago vs. today. Back then, the country was wide-open and still under construction. Today it is full. There is not enough well-paying work for the native population, so why exactly are we importing untold millions from the third world? It’s bad enough that we have the entirety of Central America running over our border; for every strawberry picker there are also gun-runners, human traffickers, drug cartels and coyotes. The prisons in this country are FILLED with illegals who came to this country “for a better life.” Tell that to the 6,000 Texans who have been murdered in recent years by illegal immigrants. In some border states as much as 25% of the prison population consists of illegal aliens.

    Our ignorance is not what condemns impoverished Syrians to death. It is the immutable force of Islam, tribal distrust/violence that goes back millenia, lack of evolution of the Arab peoples and others who practice Islam, not to mention their societies’ incredible corruption, racism and overall lack of ethics. Pretty ironic that all that hatred, mayhem and death stems from a religious ideal that allegedly espouses peace while subjugating 50% of its population to essentially slavery.

    I can’t stand these types of articles constantly arguing moral equivalence between the Western world and these other terrible places.

    As far as the Irish go, I will never understand how an island surrounded by water and FISH could have permitted itself to lapse into such a terrible famine. Darwin was a prescient son-of-a-gun wasn’t he?