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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. Ralph

    If the NY Muslims want a new mosque they should look for property where there would be no conflict. This is an obvious afront to christians and jews.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  2. jAMES

    YES, BOTTOM LINE IS THEY CAN BUILD WHEREVER THEY WANT TO BASED ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND APPROPRIATE ZONING LAWS. BUT IT'S STUPID TO DO SOMETHING SO PROVOCATIVE AND NOT TO MENTION JUST PLAIN BAD TASTE.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  3. ?

    Holland, France, England, Denmark, Belgium, and now the United States? What is taking place in Europe right now with the rapid growth in the Muslim population and their high birthrates will create Muslim states within the next few decades. With that rise in population will come the increase of political power (more Muslim voters for Muslim candidates). I would like to see religious harmony and tolerance amongst humanity but I'd be an idiot to think it'll ever happen. We're wired for division - just look at our political parties. They are enemies. Period.
    To see Islam become a strong force in America is a cause for concern for me. Look at out Muslim neighbors. How do they treat their women? What values are important to them? What clothing do Muslim men require their equals to wear?
    I feel like moving to Australia. Their government's stance on immigrants imposing their own culture on Australians: "If you don't like our culture and the way we live, go back to wear you came from. If you move to our country then adopt our way of life."

    July 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      one thing that you have totally missed out on about Muslims is the amount of effort and commitment and self-sacrifice required to raise children!! the way you are writing is like Muslims just pop out children and leave them on the street. The reason Muslims are increasing in population is because it takes GREAT AMOUNTS of commitment to raise morally upright children. Husbands have to work and bring home the dough, wives have to stay home and raise the children and educate them about religion and protect them from the vices that abound outside in society. Raising morally upright muslim children in Western culture is a supreme achievement requiring years and years of hardship and heartache. This is something you should reflect upon. Muslims are all over the planet because they have the ability to make the vast sacrifices to raise children in todays world. An ability that most materialistic cultures in the West have lost. And as such they have lost the battle for the future of the planet.

      July 25, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  4. Sanseh

    Missing the point is history as Newt Gingrich is an historian. Religious warfare or religious based warfare continues even today. Saudis and other Islamic fundamentalist believe in their Jihad, while the west continues its crusade and Israel is the example western victory in Crusades the Holy Land in its control. This warfare continues today in this seemingly modern world where people act nonreligious but religion plays a serious role in politics.

    Further ground zero sight should not be used for religious propaganda. We should understand these modern religions which do not believe in the consequences of action are based on a mutilation(like the unit) which converted them from mother goddess worshiping society to that of slave based society which brought upon the world the greatest environmental disaster an extinction period worse then dinosaurs, where millions of sq miles of land laid to waste, where whole societies are genocide and their histories forgotten. This erasing of history all from such religions who do not believe in the consequences of action. We should be educated enough to condemn such religion which have no benefit for the world as such religion don't believe in science but political agenda blind beliefs and trying to use something higher to figure out what should and ought to be done in order to make a better world, for benefit of everyone, not some few individuals...

    July 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  5. Bruce

    To NY Muslim- Well we'll just see about that. People are wking up and your day of reckoning is coming. We won't conquer you, just put you in the trash heap of history where you belong.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  6. Islam_is_the_FINAL_TESTAMENT

    Its sad that there are so many ignorant people out there who hate islam and muslims for the ignorant actions of a few.
    There are 1.5 BILLION MUSLIMS in the world. Do you REALLY THINK THAT 1/4 of the entire human population is a terrorist?
    Listen, if you are really sincere to GOD, then do some unbiased research about islam. Read the Quran first hand from front to back. If you really want to be successful in the hereafter, you should do research about it. You research about houses and cars before you buy them. Why dont you research about the religion you choose before you follow it. Your entire hereafter depends on the religion you choose. You have to Admit that GOD does exist. IF you think that the heavens and earth happened by accident, thats like telling me that a an iphone found in the middle of a desert popped up by itself without a designer. God does exist, and he wouldnt have created you without a purpose. God Created you and he sent messengers and books to teach you how to live your life correctly. Muhammad was the last and final messenger, and the Quran is the final testament to mankind. There is none worthy of Worship except Gold Almight Alone. Jesus was a messenger and human. Jesus was a prophet, but not god. There arent 3 gods in one. There is only one god, and God is not like human at all. Islam is the only monotheist religion today on the face of this earth and all the prophets and messengers came to teach monotheism.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
    • rlrwkc

      God does not exist...no more than Santa...and, if God did exist and were Allah, then God is a terrorist...and yes, the percentage of the 1.5 billion that follow the Koran (not the one's that just say their Muslim because it's cool to be different and maybe need a group to belong to) are the enemy of freedom, and therfore the enemy of America...you will kill many more of us freedom lovers, but you will lose in the end just like every other clown who went down this road before.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
    • david stone

      NO, we hate your so called "religion" PRECISELY because 1.5 billion of you are either unable, or unwilling to stop the barbaric behavior of the "few extremists"....personally I am leaning towards you not really WANTING to stop them....it's amazing how the "majority of good muslims" are DEAD SILENT when terrorism occurs....later trying to claim moral high ground...but never really doing anything to stand up to the worst among you.....we are getting tired of the tired old lines of "how can you hold us all responsible for the actions of a few".....it's PLAYED OUT!!

      July 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
    • Guester

      I think you are probably a well meaning sincere person but... Have you taken your own advice and read the Bible and the Torah from cover to cover sincerely? Thing about religion is it's a belief not a fact.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
    • Biff

      The source of the universe can not be comprehended by 3 dimensional apes traveling forward through time. Accidents can and do happen, the religions on earth are statistically more likely a joke than real – god is just as likely to not exist, or exist as a giant dog, or porpoise, or energy globule which has no interest in the bugs roaming a single planet among bazillions. While we are at it, humans are inherently evil and selfish and would kill you in a second if it weren't for legal consequences resulting from humanity's social contract (look it up). Most muslims are undereducated, impoverished, unhealthy people who believe what they are told because they do not have any other resources available to them to form their own opinions. The point is, this is all a fraud. I just met a guy on the streets of Mecca the other day who told me that HE was the new Prophet and all others before HIM were wrong. So I guess I have to believe HIM now eh? Silliness around us all.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
    • CSnord

      You are clearly deluded and blinded by your faith and religion. Most religious people are, but it usually doesn't affect their ability to function too badly. The sad thing is that when you get too many Muslims together, they start feeding on each others beliefs and faith and ultimately turn into an ugly, violent mob. It's true that 1/4 of the world's population is suffering from the same delusion as yours, however, mass hysteria does not mean the masses are right. Religion needs to be stamped out, but most people are too weak-minded to accept the alternative.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  7. NY Muslim

    If building a Mosque is a sign that we have conqurered a nation; well America wake up; there are over 2000 Mosques all over America, so ya'all are a conqurered nation, so quit now.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • david stone

      Yep, I know that is the goal of those in your "faith"...to conquer and force submission, just as your "prophet" demanded.....but not everyone is surrendering to your evil death cult just yet....look at the ratio of supporters to opposers here.....this runs so deep even liberal are agreeing with their arch enemy (Palin) on this...this isn't democrat or republican, this is AMERICAN

      July 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  8. randy S

    I will normally go to opposite ends of the argument when Palin and the likes are involved. Not this time...I fully agree with they are saying. It's not about a religion at this point and if the muslims that are backing this aren't sensitive enough to understand this then I am against them and am also beginning to take on a different view of their religion. They will also be assuming a great responsibility for the welfare of everyone going there and I hope they are smart enough to understand that.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  9. david stone

    This whole things is designed to serve one purpose...to be a slap in the face to Americans, and to show submission to the "religion" that brought us the "convert or die" concept in full color on 9/11/01

    July 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  10. Guester

    Difference is that with the coming of Jesus the Old Covenant was fulfilled and the versus you refer too are no longer considered a commandment from God. Unlike Muslims we're no longer supposed to kill in God's name.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  11. Jenny

    To The Left- You are a moron. Was it racist to be against the Nazis? Islam is worse. Please move to Saudia Arabia or have yourself commited. Either way we'd be rid of you and your nonsense.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  12. obsthetimes

    Do not confuse the issue by using ideas, words and freedoms inherent in the USA.
    Go build the completely legal mosque, on private land and private money. blah blah blah in saudi arabia

    July 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  13. Eyes open

    Yes, you're right.. and gee whiz.. I wonder why we hate them so much? As someone else eloquently put, they have no redeeming attribute but hundred of reason to grind them to dust.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  14. Jeff T

    Putting a Mosque at ground zero should not be banned but would be in very poor taste. The idea that vistors remembering their lost loved ones would have no choice but to witness a religious symbol of those that perpatrated one of the worst acts of terrorism in American history is bothersome to say the least. I would think if the Islamic religious leaders were trying to pervay peace, the last thing they would want is their religion being associated with this terrible act. The fact that this push must be very well funded due to the obviously high rent at ground zero makes me question the motivations of those involved.

    Putting a Mosque at ground zero would be like wearing a Nazi military uniform to a synagogue.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
    • david stone

      I sincerely LOVE your analogy in the last sentence...Kudos....It would be JUST like bunch of neo-nazis wanting to erect a nazi meeting place near a holocaust site, and claiming "hey, we don't agree with what hitler did, we oppose the holocaust but....blah blah blah" Same EXACT concept....most muslims stand SILENT as the "few extremists" commit their barbaric murderous acts, and then try to claim moral high ground saying "yeah, but we don't agree with them, they are a minority...", while NEVER doing ANYTHING REAL to stop them, or shout them down publicly in places where islam is strong

      July 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  15. david stone

    I can't BELIEVE NYC is going to allow this really.....it shouldn't be a no but a HELL NO.....and I still think the best tribute to the fallen would have been erecting the tallest building on earth, and I noticed how there were people making sure that didn't happen either....we need to be "sensitive" to those who want us to CONVERT OR DIE

    July 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  16. Krisagi Kusanagi

    @david stone
    Im sorry but your wrong. All the incidents I mentioned are fully endorsed(with exception to the KKK) by christians world wide. The Crusades were done in the name of the Christian God to either convert the heathens or kill them. The Black Plague was done to the Jews cause European Christians said that God had told them that the Jews were the ones who were bringing the plague to Europe. The Salem Witch Massacres were done cause of Christian Commandment: "22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Which everyone took as Kill all witches. My family was Baptist I know the Christian Doctorine. It Clearly States "Convert the Heathens and if you cant convert them kill them for there is only 1 true religion and that is ours" Since its inception after the death of Constantine Christianity has tried to put off on the general public that it is the only true peacful religion that every other religion is violent and is trying to destroy the world. I am lucky to see that as a child and leave such a violent religion. Im not saying Islam isnt violent but I am saying that if you want to say that their is only violence in Islam and not in your own well thats just the "pot calling the kettle black".

    July 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • david stone

      Yes all religions have a bloody past Krisagi...now can we deal with THIS century for a moment? (since only islam still murders in the name of God in an organized fashion)....

      OK...now perhaps you can name the Christian equivelant of AL Queda?? The Taliban? Hezzbollah? What Christian group openly gathers in support of the things you mention? What Christian group has training camps where people learn how to make bombs?

      July 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • CSnord

      The history you cite happened hundreds of years ago when the world's values were different. Christianity and Judaism eventually grew up and abandoned violent overthrow for religious purposes. Islam is still immature and has yet to repudiate violence and intolerance. Muslims see how easy it is to use Judeo-Christian principals against Jews and Christians and react accordingly. Hopefully, Islam will grow up, or we'll all be bowing to Mecca five times a day.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
      • CSnord

        The site screwed up. This was aimed at Krisagi Kusanagi.

        July 23, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  17. TheLeft

    There is no good reason to stop them from building a mosque at ground zero. This racism, plan and simple. Everyone opposing this is just ignorant and hateful of muslims. They should just admit it.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • david stone

      I'm anti-mosque and anti-islam, so what RACE am I racist against exactly?

      July 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  18. Tony

    Quoting a religious justification is always the resort of those who have no moral or logical basis for their argument. Only when we rid the world of religious belief, will the world actually become a good place.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  19. rafail

    I support Sara Palin and Newt Gingrich. We don't have to let the muslims to use democracy in USA to proclaim their goals and hatred. No mosque no ground zero.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  20. magnolia

    as an atheist i'm here to tell you that i DO oppose this mosque, and i oppose it on religious grounds.

    the religion of peace is a farcical concept. as a student of history, and the koran, i feel qualified in saying that islam is, and has historically been, a religion of hatred, intolerance, and violence.

    when and if, hindus, christians, jews, buddhists etcetera begin conducting themselves in the manner in which those devoted to islam are currently behaving, i will begin actively campaigning against them too.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
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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.