July 23rd, 2010
11:35 AM ET

My Take: No conservatism in Gingrich's attack on the ground zero mosque

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

This week, Newt Gingrich joined Sarah Palin in expressing his opposition to the Islamic community center and mosque at ground zero.

Palin’s argument, while wrongheaded, was better. Her appeal was to “common decency.” Don’t build the mosque, she wrote, out of respect for the dead and out of sensitivity to those who lost loved ones on 9/11.

Gingrich’s argument, by contrast, was simply bizarre.

In a macho manifesto that echoed some of the most hateful comments attacking my earlier post supporting the ground zero mosque on religious liberty grounds, Gingrich wrote, “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”

Really? Since when has Saudi Arabia been the model for American civil liberties? And if it is our model, why don’t we follow it more rigorously, banning all mosques from all America, or for that matter all non-Christian places of worship?

And while we are at it, why stop at violating our citizens’ religious liberties? Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow political parties and severely restricts freedom of speech. So perhaps we should outlaw New York’s Republican and Democratic parties until Saudi Arabia agrees to allow political organizations. Perhaps we should shut down The New York Times until Saudi Arabia agrees to respect freedom of speech.

Gingrich’s truly bizarre argument basically admits that opposition to the proposed Islamic community center and mosque is rooted in religious intolerance. In fact, the whole point of the piece is to justify that admitted intolerance on the ground that Saudi Arabia is even more intolerant.

Reading Gingrich’s strange statement took me back to a chilling passage in a brilliant book by the Dartmouth historian Susannah Heschel called The Aryan Jesus. In this study of the intellectual lengths Christian theologians went to demonize the Jews during the 1930s in Nazi Germany, she makes a chilling observation about how racism works.  “By defining the target as immoral,” she writes, “the perpetrators permit themselves to violate their own moral norms.”

Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Gingrich is a Nazi, or a racist. I don't believe he is either. What I am saying is that he is following this same script. By defining his target—in this case “the Islamists and their apologists”—as immoral he and his followers permit themselves to violate America’s longstanding moral norms.

There are many words for such an argument, but conservative is not one of them. True conservatives seek to safeguard a society's core values, not to dismiss them in the name of the demon du jour. And one of America's core values, inscribed into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, is freedom of religion.

But we are at war, right? And don't desperate times call for desperate measures? According to Gingrich, “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.” And I will grant him that. There are Muslim extremists who hate America and want to destroy us.

But while terrorists may take down our buildings and murder our citizens, only we American citizens can bury our core values. And that is what Palin, Gingrich, and other so-called conservatives are all too willing to do.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Islam • Politics

soundoff (600 Responses)
  1. Tony L

    Gingrich and Palin are both NOT leaders but dividers of this nation. Instead of bringing this nation together they believe in destroying the constitutional rights and religious freedom rights of a minority. This nation can not move forward with this kind of backward thinking and discrimination. It cannot stand, that as Americans we allow these so called GOP leaders to take away the liberties of a minorities among us. Where are the real leaders of GOP? The party is now a fringe extremist neo right wing religious party.

    August 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  2. joe

    If Islamic terrorists are considered evil by 'good' Muslims then why have we not heard their outcry of condemnation. It sure seems that there is not much evidence of good Muslims making public this difference. I think more mainstream American Muslims need to differentiate themselves, loudly and clearly, from this lunatic group so we can indeed say they do not represent the Muslim faith. It is the difference between people who make excuses for their children and people who make them accountable

    August 25, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  3. Hwa Shi-Hsia

    I'm a member of ethnic and religious minority groups from Malaysia (a Muslim country) who's lived in the US for 10 years, and I would really love to stuff the conservative xenophobic bigots from my country in the same room with the conservative xenophobic bigots from the US and watch their brains explode when they realise how similar they are.

    August 15, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  4. warren fisher

    this place is an insult and a towel head victory. people should be upset . islam muslam is rott and poisen

    August 15, 2010 at 12:08 am |
  5. ybs

    Too many dimwits are on this board. Legally, you can't stop Muslims from creating a mosque there. Do you believe in U.S. laws, or should we deport you?

    There is no IFs or BUTs, wimps!

    August 14, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
  6. warren fisher

    ask yourself if a christian or jewish terrorist group bombed downtown islam muslim town and then built yankee stadium . ya think someone might be pissed

    August 14, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
  7. GodIsForImbeciles

    Prothero is the most vapid, idiotic dunce writing for CNN.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  8. warren fisher

    this is not about religion. this is about love of country. and dont be fooled islam is as evil as any other reliigion. i love my country the evil religion of islam does not . dont bow to their evil leaders . death to islam and may the USA be gods kingdom for all humanity.we are the home of the free .

    August 14, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
  9. Abdo

    First of all I would like to mention an important fact :

    200 American Muslims died in the attack on the twin towers on 9/11 but for some reason no one seems to care or mention this fact

    Secondly the people who condemn the mosque say muslims should respect the healing process and not build the mosque near ground zero how are we threating the healing process when our own people were killed by Al Qaieda on 9/11 so in reality what the critics are saying is you need to respect the healing process as if the muslim community did not lose anyone on that day then you add insult to injury by saying we cannot build a mosque near ground zero.

    Lastly this issue has caused a new wave of islamiphobia throughout the nation because of this issue which proves the issue is not whether the location of the mosque is in question , The question is why do people think they can threaten and infringe on American Muslims Freedom of Religon ?

    August 14, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  10. AJ

    CONSERVATIVES ARE SO READY TO UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION...... except the freedom or religion, or anything that doesn't suit their hypocritical ideology.

    August 14, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  11. John

    The agreement should be to allow the mosque to be built on that area, but due to the area in which it will lie, thre should be controls. There should be a heavy CIA presence in this building. Every room bugged and monitored. Webcams posted so the public can see how peaceful the area is. Absolutely every inch in the building should have a camera and a recroder with the best intelligence analysts watching every single move. If its meant for peaceful purposes, then there should be no fighting these restrictions.

    August 14, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  12. Annie

    The 911 terrorists really will win the war if we Americans are willing to pitch out our most cherished laws and traditions like freedom of religion.

    I am beginning to think that if you gave Americans a questionaire asking them to vote on most of what is in the constitution or our bill of rights if they would cast that vote against about half of it. We seem to be exposed to more and more information and are becoming more and more ignorant and intolerant.

    My only hope is that our younger generation doesn't seem to be buying into this kind of nonsense and the nation still has a future.

    August 14, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  13. Ferdinand of Castile

    Stephano Prothero, author of the above article is to say the least ISLAMO-IGNORANT (do not regard this as insult). What is religious liberty?? Is permitting a religion that allows polygamism to thrive in America religious liberty??If this is what it is then even the polygamist mormons and not only muslims should be left alone. Before you decide to be welcoming to islam, seek to understand it first. it is a religion that seeks to exterminate all non muslims who refuse to accept it. In our part of the world (spain), americans are famous for being ignorant of the non american world. Asking most Americans about building mosques in America, this is the answer you will get that "I dont see any problem with that, this is America the land of liberty and freedom!" This is the most dangerous mentally of Americans of wanting to be politically correct and thinking taht everything goes in Amercia. No wonder only a few like Newt Gingrich see the sinister hidden agenda that islam has for the west. The threat for America now is not in Afghan but is mainly possed by stealth jihadists who some Americans would want to welcome in the name of religious liberty. If Americans' indifference to islam continues, very soon there will be resistance to an attempt to put up a mosque in camp David for a muslim American President to pray. Wake up now guys!!

    August 12, 2010 at 8:19 am |
    • nancy

      Well said.

      August 14, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • AJ

      and what does Chrisitanity Claim? That if I don't follow your doctrine I go to hell? That all people should be converted, remember Manifest Destiny, The Spanish Inquisition? Christian- Muslim... NO DIFFERENT.

      August 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  14. The Dark Knight

    The comments in this section are disgusting and appalling. It shows me that sadly America is still full of bigots, racists, I was born and raised in this country, I am an officer in the military-a recent college grad, I am Muslim, and I would die for my country. My parents are moderate Muslim immigrants from South-Asia. Now to address the issue at hand–the majority of Americans seem to forget that we have a constitution that is the ultimate law of the land. That includes the freedom to religion. My oath to this country was to defend the constitution against all enemies; foreign and domestic. I have every right as an AMERICAN citizen to worship freely where I want and when I want. and I condemn terrorism. People who blame all Muslims for a bunch of wackos is like me blaming every Catholic because some priests molest boys. It’s wonderful to see that students here seem to be mimicking sentiments Nazi Germany held towards Jewish people back in the day. Long Live America and Long Live the Constitution which protects me from ignorant morons who have left these comments. Liberty can never be limited. ever. Anyone who believes otherwise should cease to call themselves American.

    August 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  15. Faqi

    Doctrine of Taqiyya, the lie allowed to Muslims in order to give a positive image of Islam.
    Jihad as a violent, permanent state of warfare in order to establish an islamic world order under sharia law administered by a caliph is the central goal of Islam as stated in the Koran. It is emphatically NOT a peaceful, inner struggle: that notion is based upon a weak hadith and has little credibility with Muslims, nor is it preached in mosques; it is merely dangled before non-Muslims as taqiyya. Muhammad, after declaring himself to be the last prophet of 'allah', became a warlord, conducting predominantly offensive campaigns in which he established himself as the ruler of Arabia. The entire history of Islam is of conquest, destruction and enslavement of peoples, religious groups and cultures and the usurpation of the achievements of these (Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Jewish, Christian, etc) as Islam's own. As to the Caliphate, specifically, it is emphatically undemocratic: Jews and Christians in previous caliphates were denied basic religious, social, educational, legal rights and were constantly persecuted and forced to pay a protective tax (jizya) to Muslims in order to prevent being killed. Indeed, if a Muslim killed a Christian, he would not be charged with the crime. There may be 'moderate' Muslims but there is NO MODERATION IN ISLAM. “Islamism“ is merely the latest in a long line of absurd expressions (“islamonazi,“ “islamofascism“, “fundamentalism“) which attempts to evade the recognition that the real source of the violence is Islam. “Islam is a religion without a theology, a secular wolf dressed as a religious lamb“ said one Muslim scholar

    August 3, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  16. I aM

    Being too wise in the name of religious freedom is the beginning of conquest of US as the conquest of Persia in 7th.....The world has lost too much, and will lost even more is mature society is changed to a society whose lases and medieval stoning is considered to be one of the best goal....

    July 30, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  17. Mike

    Luke and Carl have hinted at this; but the main point in this whole argument is this: If Christians call for laws to limit the practice of Islam (not to mention the poor taste in building a mosque atop Ground Zero as a monument of some kind), then we need not complain if a later regime finds precedent in those laws to limit the practice of Christianity.

    In other words, you need to be real careful what you ask for.

    July 26, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
    • Reality

      Mike, In the contemporary world:

      Recognizing the flaws in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", "kneelers" and "pew peasants" will converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No clerics, imams, rabbis and priests needed or desired. It will be called the great "Pink Slipping" of religion and its leaders. There will be no need for mosques, temples, synagogues, and churches. The current religious edifices will be converted to peace and meditation gardens with the entrance words, "Love thy Neighbor as Thyself and Do No Harm", the only two life-rules anyone needs.

      Next, as per James Somerville, philosophy professor emeritus from Xavier University, Cincinnati,

      "The faith of the vast majority of believers (and non-believers) depends upon where they were born and when."

      It is disturbing that religious-based violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of "my god/prophet is better than your god/prophet" religions.

      July 27, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  18. Reality

    And still more reasons why there should be no mosques on the face of the planet:

    Islam’s Koran and Submission

    Lacking the image-of-God doctrine, Mohammed emphasized something else in its place—submission. The very name he gave to his new religion—Islam—means submission. Submission in Islam means submission to God, submission to Mohammed as the ultimate prophet of God, submission to the Koran as the ultimate revelation from God, submission of women to men and submission of everyone to the caliph, sultan, shah or whichever other kind of Muslim ruler is in power.

    Hence the same Muslims whom Mohammed taught to fight fiercely against infidels of the house of war are taught to be docile submitters within the house of submission. The problem is that blind, unthinking submission, submission, submission—emphasized over eons of time—does not encourage clearheaded critical thinking, without which no democracy can succeed.

    In a submission-focused context, what can voting mean? Dozens of Muslims nations elect parliaments, yes, but to date there is always a strong man who can demand submission from the entire body of elected officials at will. Those who refuse to submit risk assassination.

    . . . A devout Muslim’s sense of his own intrinsic value, accordingly, does not rest upon recognition of God’s likeness within him. He measures it instead by the intensity of his uncritical submission to every requirement of the Koran. . . .

    July 26, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  19. Gary

    keep all religous houses,churches,mosques,temples away from groud zero. It was religous fanatism which caused to towers to fall.

    July 26, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  20. Manuel

    Paul- That is because of money, you know that. They don't mind selling the country.

    July 26, 2010 at 10:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.