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. Eyes open

    I never saw a muslim that I thought couldn't be improved by being on the receiving end of a flame thrower.
    Curse the name of A11ah and his rapist "prophet".

    July 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  2. CSnord

    People in general, and this author in particular, are missing the point as to why it is important that a Muslim edifice (mosque, community center, whatever you want to call it) not be allowed to be built near the World Trade Center site. Because of the actions of a bunch of whack-jobs on 9.11.2001, that piece of land has become symbolically important to Muslims throughout the world. When Muslims gain a foothold in a culture, they begin asking for concessions to their beliefs and way of life. Special consideration concerning dress and prayer other aspects of their religion. These are probe to get the indigenous culture to give them space. They keep probing and expanding very subtly over time to gain more and more influence in the culture. The ultimate objective, of course, is to take over the culture and suppress all other forms of belief. To replace the legal system with their own. To replace the political system with Imams. This has played out across Africa, Indonesia, The Caucuses, and is actively happening now in France, Britain, and Germany.

    This Islamic center is a probe. It is an attempt to see if Islam can create an important center near the site where an important Islamic event happened - The World Trade Center. If we allow it, then another probe will follow. If we kill it now, it staves off what can only be called an insurgency. Capitulation will be viewed throughout the Muslim world as weakness.

    In spite of what we are constantly told, Islam is not a tolerant cult. It is not inclusive and respectful. There is no such thing as religious freedom under Islam. The real message from Islam is: Conform to our way or we will kill you. Now, before all you defenders of Islam start hammering me, I base this conclusion on the ACTION of Muslims around the world. There isn't a single Islamic state on the planet that will tolerate a Christian church or a Jewish Synagogue to be built. Members of minority religious sects are regularly persecuted in all Islamic countries. Ask a Lebanese Christian or an Egyptian Coptic Christian what "tolerance" under Islam REALLY means.

    Either we stamp out Islamic infestations, or we will be assimilated by Islam. I know enough about Islam to know that I do not want to live that life. The typical line I get from those promoting tolerance is that I'm afraid of Islam. That if I just let go of my fear, all will be well. Sorry. WRONG. I don't like the morals and principals of Muslims. I don't like Islam in much the same way that I don't like Brussels Sprouts - both leave a bad taste in my mouth. I choose not to accept it. That automatically makes me an enemy of Islam. If others want to be Muslim, fine, just keep it away from me and my community. The problem is, Islam demands that I conform or die. I choose neither, which forces me to unwillingly fight the probes of Islam into my society.

    And that, people, brings us back to the discussion at hand and why it is important that this particular Islamic edifice in New York not be allowed to be built. Unfortunately, there are too many voices for acceptance and tolerance and it is likely that the silly thing will be built and American culture will die just a little bit more.

    For those of you inclined to bash me about how I do not "understand" Islam and that it does not condone murder and suicide bombing I say this: I will believe you about Islam when there are no more suicide bombers. When there are no more terror attacks by Muslim male between the ages of 17 and 45. When Al Qaida and its offshoots no longer exist. When there is a Synagogue in downtown Riyad. When Coptic Egyptians are elected to government positions.

    Just to be clear, I do not support, and am not a member of ANY organized religion. I have my rules for living my life and adopt a "live and let live" policy so long as it is reciprocated. If someone starts infringing on that, I will push back, which is the basis of this post. I like the way I live and do not need any religious cult trying to change it. Unfortunately, Islam will try to do just that.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
    • Edward

      Thanks for expressing your opinion so clearly. I support fully your points and arguements.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  3. Bob C

    Dear Mr. Prothero:

    One question of you, why, in your own words, on CSpans Book TV this past May do you define yourself as "religiously confused" ?
    I understand and appreciate your first ammendment argument here but knowing as much as you do about the world's eight great'/rival religions where / what are you confused about regarding Islam?
    I've read the Bible and the Qur'an and have a copy of both as I'm sure you have. The sentiments expressed by both Mrs. Palin and Mr. Gingrich were emotional and maybe political. Did you lose a friend or relative or student on 9/11/01? Americans are forgiving and tolerant, some in the world believe to a fault. There are certain things an American generation can't and won't forget. Time cures all, but 9/11 won't go away by having a mosque/community center built two blocks away from Ground Zero.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  4. earl fey

    To call Gingrich Bizzare is being redundant

    July 23, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  5. The Wizard

    To Ben, Christians and Jews and others have no problem with you being an atheist at all. Try doing that in Saudia Arabia and other places where this cult has a stronghold and see if you can voice that opinion.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
    • Ben

      Wizard you are not, if you could only understand the arrogance in your statement perhaps you could understand the anger I feel towards those that refuse to understand what their religion is doing to the human race. All of your religions divide, all of your religions attack, and those of you that preach that your religion is a peaceful one are just doing so for the moment because nothing has prompted you to attack. It is not a difficult thing I am talking about here, it is real...we die, there are no ghosts or goblins or magic kings that give us a second chance at life if we are good. Think about what you are arguing in favor for...an extra life to enjoy for eternity???? This makes no sense if you think about it. A single being with the power to construct the universe???? Please, use your brains. These are nothing but stories and you have taken them and run with them. That in it self is not so bad until these fables start shaping the lives of the ones reading them, or that do not. Please stop the religion! It is killing the human race! We all are born and we all die, then there is nothing for us. It is not a complicated thing to understand and once you except your destiny as an organic life form the more out of life you can enjoy! Stop religion!!!!

      July 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
    • tbrnotb

      What the heck does this have to do with saudi Arabia? I canjust hear your Mother...."Wizard, would you jump off a cliff just because all the Saudis do?"

      We are America. We are different. We hold outselves up to a higher moral standard, What's right is right....no matter what the people in Sadi Arabia do.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  6. Wasilla Billy

    Is it part of Republican's DNA that they have to constantly be squashing someone?

    July 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
    • david stone

      Look around, people who HATE Palin are opposing this slap in the face as well....

      And to the guy trying to convert us to the "truth" of islam....we are tired of the lame old excuse of "please don't blame the peaceful majority for the few who don't understand the quran"....WE DO BLAME YOU, because the majority stands by virtually silent and does nothing to end the madness.....when you do and say nothing to those who commit evil under your banner, you sink to their level....and in some ways to an even lower level.....at least they have the courage of their conviction, you have no courage, and no leg to stand on

      July 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  7. Jim Gaines

    Let's see Newt. How about "we will have freedom of the press when Saudia Arabis has freedom of the press." Doesn't make much sense does it?

    July 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  8. Islam_is_the_FINAL_TESTAMENT

    Anyone who kills innocent people is a terrorist , whether they be muslim or christian or jew. I want to make sure you understand one point. Islam is a religion directly from God. The Quran, are the words of God. "Muslims" are people who claim to follow the religion of Islam. Not every Muslim understands Islam as it should be understood. You can hate muslims and I have no problem with that, but please dont hate Islam. Islam is the truth. I invite you to discover Islam. One person who converted to Islam said " I am glad that I met Islam before I met the Muslim"...the reality is that a lot of muslims are not educated about Islam and its principles properly. I assure you that pure Islam teaches that it is HARAM (NOT PERMISSIBLE) to kill innocent people. The people who did 9/11 are terrorists and they will never taste the frangrance of paradise for killing innocent people like that according to our prophet. And God knows best.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
    • Guester

      The key point here is you BELIEVE that your religion is true. Doesn't mean it is doesn't mean it isn't. Kind of like saying you're awake right now but how would know if you're just dreaming? So the answer is believe what you want, let other people believe what they want and don't blow each other up. Simple.

      BTW – the mosque is a bad idea.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
    • Islam_is_the_FINAL_TESTAMENT

      Guester, in response to your comment, I agree with your point that you should let people believe what they want to and not blow each other up.
      However, if you believe in something, that means you believe it is fact. If you believe in God and HIs messengers, then you believe that they are all factual beings. Prophet muhammad was a historical figure who actually existed and is recorded as a factual persion in history books, just like Jesus and others, etc. GOD is FACT also, just by looking at all the signs around you that he exists, like the stars, moon, sun, planets, etc.

      You are allowed to have your opinion on whether its a good idea or bad idea to build the mosque. However, it doesnt mean that the people who want to build it dont have the right to. IF they buy that property they have the right to do what they want with it, as long as it meets city zoning requirements.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
    • CSnord

      Then by this "logic", virtually ALL Muslims are mis-educated. The majority do not practice a version of Islam that is consistent with Islam (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Jordan, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Indonesia, and any country ending in the syllable "stan"). So, even though the majority of the world's Muslims are out to eliminate all other believes and pervert Islam, non-Muslims should still respect and tolerate it. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Clean up your house, then you can join civilized society. Until then, stay out of my country.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • IzDaMan

      So tell me oh grerat knowing propaganda one....what happens if one day you decide to leave Islam and don't ever want to come back?

      Please explain your definition of Peace.

      Please explain your deifintion of a terrorist.

      What is the calaphate?

      What siginifcant event happened in 1923 and 1928?

      July 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • IzDaMan

      @Islam In regards to "Anyone who kills innocent people is a terrorist " Who would you consider "Innocent People"? As per Sharia Law it would be "people of Islam" so quit trying to Lie to us here, and misuse our language with propaganda B.S.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  9. Ben

    there is no god, this blog is built on lies and those that follow this lie. You are making the world an intolerable unhappy congested place to live, stop while we are all still alive. Please for the love of life, stop.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
    • david stone

      Well Ben, then I CERTAINLY hope you oppose this mosque as well. Because if islam ever gets a strong hold here, athiests like yourself will be dismembered and killed right along side of the Christians and Jews.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  10. david stone

    We are trying to treat the most evil, dishonorable, intolerant excuse ever created for a "religion" as something to be revered, to be protected....this "faith" is WORSE than nazi beliefs, the KKK, or any other filth ever created.....it is an equal opportunity oppressor that believes ALL that do not bow to mecca, and live by the quran, should DIE, PERIOD.....gays should be snuffed out, women should be treated like livestock, Christians, Jews, and EVEN YOU ATHIESTS all need to be KILLED! ...........Why "tolerate" those who would just as soon kill us all? F THEM!

    July 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      David are you really hearing what you are saying (who is the Nazi)?

      July 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
    • david stone

      No rational person would conclude that Jews were ever a threat to our world. That was a sick belief of a very sick and drug addled man, and the blind folks who followed him. However, it is an absolute fact that islam is the ONLY remaining religion with a large organized segment hell-bent on mass murder, and on killing non-believers. Jews never did any of this, and hatred of them is irrational. It is perfectly rational to hate those who are OBVIOUSLY trying to KILL YOU. Wake up.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
    • The Lab Rat

      David, I've read many of your posts....I have a hard time thinking of anyone with whom I'd agree more wholeheartedly. If you're ever in Houston, the first beer is on me.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
    • sealchan

      And if we were to take a net body count of those who have died at the hands of those who killed them for their God, which religion would be the most to be feared?

      July 23, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  11. The Wizard

    To Islam Is the Final testament- Though i could rip your nonsensical endorsement of the cult of Islam to shreds theologically, I would rather simly tell you that I do enjoy reading the Quran...in the bathroom. Then, I put it to good use. Later, i like to draw cartoons of your pathetic "prophit" jjust because of your faith's irrational stand on that issue.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  12. Eyes open

    Well, as soon as its okay to burn them down...

    July 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  13. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    Again, I say, those of you who truly believe Islam is trying to take over America, never mind NYC a moment–what are you doing about any mosques in your area? Are you investigating them, protesting them? If not, don't you care about the safety of your own community? This is supposedly a matter of life and death, the future of our country, right?

    July 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
    • Brian

      Exactly. People are insulted and want to throw out all reason. This is one islamic center out of probably hundreds in NYC. There is a mosque already up the street. Where is the outcry from that? New Yorkers, Americans will be attending this. I think Islam and Christianity are made up myths. There are dangerous elements to both, no doubt. And I think these should be dealt with. Attacking a group of peaceful NYC muslims who have been in the neighborhood for years is counter-productive. I don't agree with fundamentalist Christianity, but you don't see me boycotting Churches.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  14. Eyes open

    The main problem is even trying to appeal to these peoples sense of "empathy"..cough...
    All they know is subjection and that is why so much of the world is islam and we failed in Iraq. These people need to be stomped to control them..its in their blood. So lets do them this honor and stomp them out.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
    • American53217

      There are a lot of ignorant people posting on this! There is violence in every holy text ex. 1 Samuel 15:1

      “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. 2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroya everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”

      Another thing there are a lot of Muslims outside the Middle East. The most populous Muslim country is in Malaysia. Also, when it comes to American values it has nothing to do with Christianity. It wasn't the bible that gave women the right to vote or own property. Look at what the Bible even says about women! By the way Islam was the first religion to allow women to own property. So before you throw stones at a religion look at your own because you might be in a glass house. THAT IS WHY THERE IS A SEPERATION OF CHURCH AND STATE!!!

      July 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
    • MoodyMoody

      American53217, isn't the most populous Muslim country Indonesia? That doesn't change your argument, but I like to have the facts correct.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  15. Sally

    I saw a picture of the Burlington Coat Factory, which has been used for Muslim prayer since last December. Is it close to Ground Zero? Yes, about two blocks, but with the landscape in NYC, two blocks could be two miles. Plus you cannot see the building from Ground Zero. If we do not figure out how to live by our Constitution and become a tolerant and loving people, we will never get past 9-11 and the hatred that ensued. It was a tragedy perpetrated by a few people. It was not a full-scale attack on America (as we have done to Iraq and Pak/Af) and it was certainly not condoned by Muslims who are American citizens.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  16. The Muslim American

    Tony – To write down that I have no moral or logical basis for my argument is absurd. Obviously you missed the whole point of my posting. I was arguing that you shouldn't use religious quotes because almost ALL holy books have some sort of verse like the Quran. Furthermore even if you did rid the world of religious beliefs you would still have the opportunity for evil... Have you not heard of rapists, murderers, thieves, liars, etc...? There isn’t religion behind that. The world would be far from peaceful. And also I was just showing both sides. I honestly believe they shouldn’t build the mosque for the sole fact that it wouldn’t be safe because I know people would most likely vandalize, harass, or bomb the mosque… then what would we call those people? People would probably justify it and say it was the ‘right’ thing to do. Don’t try to insult if YOU don’t have a moral or logical basis behind YOUR statement.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  17. Cascadoux

    What is the glory of the values Americans hold dearest, if we are to allow the hate and destruction, generated by those who want us dead, beg us to alter, or change for the worse? Shall we compromise our very character? We must protect the right of all citizens to practice their' faith, or lack thereof, wherever they own their property. To do any less would be to gnaw at, and begin to destroy our moral fabric. Death comes to all of us. It is living with our principles intact, which gives us our greatness. The horrible acts, which destroyed so many lives, and I might add, continue to cause untold pain and suffering, are not up for debate. These atrocities were done by some who claim to do so in the name of Islam. Sadly, Christians, Hindus, and others, have done the very same, in the name of their faith. So what makes us any different? The principles which have been the foundation of our existence as a Nation must be guarded with our very lives, and to do so, we have to practice them, and give them life Let peace and freedom reign!

    July 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  18. jamesnyc

    Where was this Pundit on 9/11? I WAS DOWNTOWN. NO MOSQUE. Not until Bin Laden and Al Qaeda is destroyed. We keep hearing about "Peaceful" Muslims that just happen to be funding terrorism. Until the link between Al Qaeda and Islam can be completely severed, NO DICE.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  19. Krisagi Kusanagi

    Wrong again. An ABortion Doctor was killed during a Sunday Service in 2008. The Guy who shot the doctor said he did it cause god ordered him to. He was found guilty in 2009 for Murder and sentenced to the Death Penalty. So people still do kill in the name of the Christian God. And as for the remark that all the followers of islam cry death to america i suggest you actually talk to some of them and youll see that just like some christians who dont endorse the killing of humans youll see that some muslims are the same way

    July 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • david stone

      And what LARGE ORGANIZED SUPPORT GROUP was this man a part of, such as AL Queda in islam?? Where is the world-wide organization praising the bombing of the clinic? What is it called? Must have missed that....

      July 23, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
    • rlrwkc

      So, Christians are just as crazy as Muslims? That's your point? It's obvious what I think about mythology, and I'm certainly not a Christian, but their wrongs pale in comparison to the cowardly extremeism of Islam...try as you like, you can keep telling the Christians they're wrong, but that fact certainly does not make you right...maybe if you think about what would happen to you in Teheran if you were to spout out your beliefs on the street there–like getting stoned?

      July 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  20. Robert W.

    Well sense you brought them up, how do you think it would come across if the ancestors of people who ran the NAZI party built a monument to their long ago family members at Auschwitz? After all, not all NAZIs agreed with what their leadership was doing. How about putting a shooting range across the street from columbine? Not all gun owners shoot innocent people. These people have a right to build a mosque there but it shows how they do not care about the feelings of people that do not share the same. In my opinion it just seems cold.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
    • Robert W.

      These people have a right to build a mosque there but it shows how they do not care about the feelings of people that do not share the same faith. In my opinion it just seems cold.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:25 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.