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. krashundburn

    It is supremely ironic that so many liberals are defending the mosque in this particular situation, when Islam literally condemns all that the left holds dear. This is NOT kumbaya, people.

    And for those of you who keep quoting the "freedom of religion" concept, understand that this is not the point of the debate.

    Why is it so difficult for some people to understand how insulting and self-defeating this entire idea is? Why is it so difficult for some people to recognize the double standard of insensitivity here?

    To paraphrase, "Islam is as Islam does." Instead of trying to assure the kuffar (disbelievers) that Islam is a peaceful religion and has peaceful intentions, Muslims should work steadfastly to control the radicals in their religion. And I don't mean just here in America.

    It is simply not enough for Muslims to build a "community center" at (or near) Ground Zero and talk about "peace". It is simply not enough for Muslims to "condemn" violence. Actions speak louder than words.

    Until peaceful Muslims reign in those who are not peaceful, the empty talk of peaceful Muslims and leftist Islamic apologists is meaningless, and we will remain obligated to continue to use history and current events as a measure of how peaceful Islam is.

    And we will continue to oppose the mosque at Ground Zero.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
    • krashundburn

      dang, I meant REIN for you grammar nazis.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
    • david stone

      RIGHT<<<< This is why in one of the Netherlands, one of the most liberal, tolerant countries on Earth (liberal paradise), they are beginning to take measures to stop the influx of islam.....islam and tolerance don't exactly go together.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  2. MoodyMoody

    Excuse me? Who's the wacko here? Those of us making rational arguments, or people who just throw out names to those with whom they disagree? I'm sure that anyone with any training in logic (and I don't have much) recognizes your words as ad hominem attacks, and completely illogical.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
  3. clr

    Your arguement is the one that doesn't make sense...

    July 23, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  4. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    If Muslims defile the sacred space of Ground Zero, then again, you're going to have to find a way to extract from its soil all the pulverized bits of the innocent Muslim American victims of the attack. People like Tariq Amanullah, who was VP at Fiduciary Trust International on the 97th floor of Tower 2. Boyie Mohammed, who worked at Carr Futures; Kalid Shahid, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. Rahma Salie, pregnant, on American Flight 11. Touri Bolourchi, a retired nurse on United Flight 175. NYPD cadet and EMT Salman Hamdani, a Muslim born in Pakistan, who rushed into the burning WTC to help and never came out again.

    These names are among the 60 innocent Muslims who were victims of terror on 9/11. Don't you think their families deserve a place nearby to pray for them too, as victims of other faiths (or no faith) have places of remembrance? Or do we say, "No, we only accept what your murderers have to say about Islam–you, who never killed anyone, don't count?"

    July 23, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
    • david stone

      Per your logic it would be OK to build a nazi meeting hall near one of the death camps based on the fact that some nazis died there too....DUMB

      As far as the muslims who were killed that day.....one might argue that anyone who supports the death cult of islam shouldn't be too surprised when they are killed.....its a dark ages mentality where non-believers are hacked up or killed, and dying for allah is an honor anyways so it shouldn't be too big of a deal anyway right?

      July 23, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
    • david stone

      BTW Carl, if we had a way to dig out ever scrap of muslim remains from the site and send it to the dump where animal bodies are buried in NYC, I'll bet you a secret internet vote done in America would reveal most would support doing it just so the sane humans who died that day don't have to be buried along with the filth that caused this all.....

      July 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
    • rlrwkc

      the attack was carried out in the name of Islam...I'd bet big money that the clowns in caves said, when planning the attack: "I'm going to put a mosque right on the spot to celebrate our victory for the meteorite"...well, maybe they left out the meteorite part...it's like letting a rapist sleep next to the victim so he too can get closure...shut the hell up

      July 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
    • Frogist

      david stone, you have lost your humanity. i pity you.

      July 26, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  5. david stone

    blaklaw....there are two periods of time for most Americans....the time before 9/11/01, and the time after that. In case you didn't notice, that was kind of a big deal for most of us.....and yeah, islam is the "faith" that was the umbrella group for all these nutjobs, and building that mosque will put a smile on the face of all those still living who in any way helped facilitate or support what happened that day...that should be reason enough for any real American to oppose it.....

    July 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • blaklaw_718

      sorry, 'real americans' didn't abandon the religious and racial tolerance of their forebears because they were attacked. the ones frothing at the mouth now with little to no real facts about the issue are the ones that need to work on their 'real americanism'. the rest of us are just fine. particularly new yorkers who lived through it.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
    • CSnord

      @BlackLaw_718 - So, now I'm un-American for disagreeing with you and suggesting that there are limits to religious tolerance and freedom. That's a very un-American attitude for you to adopt. Either we agree with you or we can drop dead. Sounds like Islam to me.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  6. The Wizard

    Blakelaw- I live in Queens and we will see about that. YOUR city! Hom about meeting me tomorrow? Say when and where and let me know what you'll be wearing. What a tool you are.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  7. No Means No

    No mosque at Ground Zero, no mosque anywhere in the US. Purge Islam from the US and then from the planet. It's the only answer.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  8. harry1

    Not all Islam is terrorists, but all terrorists are muslims.....go figure

    July 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
    • david stone

      It's the sad truth....at least 99% of the time......people who would argue with you will trot out the rare example where a so called "Christian" blew up a clinic, or started a cult in some obscure backwoods town....but the hard truth is, that when you hear about some building being blown up, a woman being stoned for adultery, a child being baked in an oven to punish his parents for being pro-American, we all are thinking "islam" before the word is uttered...

      July 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  9. Jay Gonzalez

    Having a mosque at ground zero makes no sense at all. what is the point of doing that? How bout down the street or a couple blocks down? Having it there makes absolutely no sense. No intelligent person can say otherwise. Freedom of religiion aside, there is no reason to have that at ground zero.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • blaklaw_718

      Jay, two things:

      1) The Cordoba House mosque was there before 9/11; and
      2) It is roughly 2-3 blocks away from Ground Zero.

      Don't buy into the rhetoric of these inane hatemongers. What they are telling you is a load of crap.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  10. Dave

    Please watch this youtube video of past constructions of mosques on the battle sites. I'm frankly astonished that any right minded person would even consider building a mosque anywhere near ground zero. It seems like such a cruel twist of the knife when you empower terrorists by allowing them to say that they not only attacked our country but build a mosque in the ashes. We're not killing them with kindness; they're killing us with our own airplanes.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  11. Adam

    Who owns the land? In a socialist country the state might have the power to stop a project like this based on some ideal of public ownership of the land. As long as we keep enriching Middle Eastern theocracies by buying their oil, they'll probably keep buying our land. And, I suppose, building some mosques on it. That's capitalism.

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

      Adam, I agree with you about Capitalism, but Islam does not currently own that land. It is owned, I believe, by a private corporation, but its sale is controlled by NYC because of its location and historical presence. So NYC can prevent the sale and destruction of the current building. Frankly though, I would argue that in a case such as this, the owners right to sell is superseded by societies right to protect its sacred and historical locations. When Islam attacked the WTC in 2001, the land all around that area, in my judgment, was permanently consecrated. The owner may sell the land, but only with approval.

      July 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  12. Dave

    Please watch this youtube video of past constructions of mosques on the battle sites. I'm frankly astonished that any right minded person would even consider building a mosque anywhere near ground zero. It seems like such a cruel twist of the knife when you empower terrorists by allowing them to say that they not only attacked our country but build a mosque in the ashes. We're not killing them with kindness; they're killing us with our own airplanes.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  13. damn yank

    the civil rights violations occurring in Saudi have nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with an extremist group of leaders who follow their own extremist wahabi interpretation of the religious teachings.....(and this group is totally supported by the west). does gingrich's plan for america include this kind of extremism?

    but that's not the fault of islam....if the 10 commandments say thou shalt not kill....but christians kill... who's to blame...the entire christian religion? the entire christian nation? or those who commited the crime with their hands?

    so, first the right will forbid a mosque to be built near ground zero....what's next? willl muslims be forbidden from entering ground zero? will muslims be forbidden from living in a certain distance from ground zero? will muslims be forbidden from building mosques anywhere in new york? will muslims be allowed to run businesses near ground zero? will muslims be allowed to dine in restaurants in and around ground zero? will there be signs on establishments that say ' no muslims allowed'?' will muslims get their citizen ship revoked?

    finally, i want to know who mr gingrich and mrs palin represent? do they just represent the non muslim citizens of america? do they just represent the christians? or just the baptists? or just the protestants? or maybe the just represent the jews?

    personally, i think people like gingrich and palin just represent those who give them the most money......

    July 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  14. The Wizard

    Hey Blakelaw, it's not your city you sanctimonious twerp. Wake up.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
    • blaklaw_718

      oh, but it is. and the community center is getting built. and there's nothing you can do about it but remain as impotent as ever in your hostility and xenophobia.

      July 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  15. david stone

    more islam = a country more like those which live under islamic rule................who wants that? who wants those who they judge to be "unworthy" to be hacked up, beheaded, or killed? why would any rational person support such a cult taking a foothold in such a sensitive place...do you not see that it will be a victory for the enemy and slap in the face of the families who lost loved ones there? this will be a straight up victory for islam if it is built

    July 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  16. The Wizard

    CSnord- A very wise and insightful writing. Anyone that bashes that is beyond naive and well into stupidity. Maybe you need to run for office.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
    • CSnord

      LOL - I'm way to honest for that. Besides, I'm equally rejected by Republican and Democrat, alike.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  17. Travers

    What's next, a German war museum at Auschwitz??????? This idea is a joke...it is just meant to take advantage of our tolerance and "stick it" to the victims. Basically, they are saying not only do can we knock down your buildings but we will build what we want in it's place.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  18. blaklaw_718

    so many out-of-towners that want to tell my city how to honor its citizens and protect itself. our citizens can finish their community center, part of the mosque that has been there long before 9/11. leave us alone, xenophobes. i trust my fellow new yorkers that happen to be muslims too look out for my city way more than i do you hatemongers.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
    • CSnord

      You poor dupe.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
    • blaklaw_718

      you poor, hateful coward.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  19. LadyInfinity

    I consider the United States a Christian nation – I don't care what Obama says to the contrary.
    They say the Mosque will be for Muslim, Jews, Islam, and Christians – yeah...like other faiths will really go inside.
    Putting up a Mosque there will feel like they are Claiming the land for themselves- I hope they don't get their way.
    Christianity rules this land and we shouldn't allow otherwise. They can have their churches in America, just not in that particular spot.

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

      Replace "Christian" with ALMIGHTY DOLLAR and you are right. In other words, you are totally wrong. This is NOT a christian country and will NEVER be. It is a secular country that may reference a prehistoric Judeo-Christian set of laws as our basis. You get to VOTE here and we SEPARATE our Churches from our Lawmakers. Best they get is a tax break and that's too much for this country to give. The good only thing that Christians do for this country is vote Republican.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
    • American53217

      So if we were to base our countries laws on Christianity then the bilble would be your guide. So then you believe

      What the Bible says about Women's Rights

      Genesis 3:16
      Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

      Isaiah 3:12
      As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.

      1 Corinthians 11:3
      But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

      1 Corinthians 14:34-36
      Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

      Ephesians 5:22-24
      Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

      Colossians 3:18
      Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

      1 Timothy 2:11-15
      Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing.

      1 Peter 3:1
      Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • IzDaMan

      American 53217- As per Islam "God gave us a system of government called Islam...Democracy is a man made way of governing...no power can be shared with God." While we may have incorporated some of the Laws of the christian God into our society that make sense...Thou sall not kill, etc. we don't make all laws our demanded way of life. If you like Islam, point yourself east and take a long walk until you reach Mecca.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
    • LadyInfinity

      I'm not married so I'm the head of my own household. If you like "the old ways" so much, go live in Iran 🙂

      July 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  20. IzDaMan

    So if you look at the Army's Ft Hood shooting lessons learned take a guess on how many times they mention, Islam? Maj Abass, Radical Islam, Koran, or anything having to do with the Islam.....I'll give you hint it....it is a type of Coke....Zero

    Ask yourself why?


    July 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • david stone

      For the same reason that they didn't mention those things in the HONOR KILLING of the two autistic children by the muslim mom yesterday.....not PC

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

      wat r u talking bout david stone. that lady was mentally ill, first of all, it is not a freakin honor killing if sombody kills their two young mentally handicap children. Obviously she couldnt handle her own self, not fit to be a parent. if ur mentally ill, your children r obviously gonna be at higher risk to be mentally ill....we have some real smart people on CNN

      July 23, 2010 at 6:06 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.