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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. david stone

    The biggest irony of this whole raging debate.....is that we are supposed to be "tolerant" of the most absolutely intolerant evil bunch of jerks every assembled....we are supposed to welcome with open arms a religion where women are treated like property or worse, covered in a bed sheet with an eye slit, told they can't get educated, drive a car, talk to a non-spousal male, where gays and Christians and Jews and Athiests need to be killed off...where everyone either needs to toe the line OR DIE....it just sickens me how many Americans are willing to do it too....all in the effort to show how PC and tolerant they are....PUKE

    July 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
    • Luke

      It makes you puke that people want to follow the US Constitution? I'm lost.

      July 24, 2010 at 1:29 am |
  2. kathy h

    I personally am not a big fan of Mr. Gingrich, however, I do feel the same.......why would anyone want a mosque at ground zero, unless it was out of disrespect....I also agree with David Stone, to do or say nothing is as much as agreeing with the wrongs that were done.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  3. Edward

    Super well said David. It's still kinda a big deal to me. I can't really fly anymore unless I drug up on ativan. Did they win the battle? Yes. Have they won the war? I hope not. When, for safty reasons, we separate the exploding passengers from the non-exploding passengers, I will not need drugs to fly, as I will not be terrified (terrorism = terrified). For the most obvious of reasons, we need separate airports and flights for Muslims. This way, I would not be treated like a terroist. I would not need to arrive at the airport three hours early, give up all my liquids and creams, take off my shoes and now we have the very tricky underpants situation. I should not be subjected to all of this. I should breeze by security as I did before Muslims starting flying flights into buildings. No to taking off my shoes, no to giving up my bottle of water, no to arriving three hours early for a one hour flight to New York. All of this is crazy when we can say no to Muslims on our flights. They can take the exploding flights and they can depart from the exploding airports. My life has been changed for the worse by the Muslims. I will take no more. No more, and no Mosque at ground zero. What a pushy people. Jeez.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  4. david stone

    I love the logic of the islamic supporters...."look at the abortion clinic...he was a Christian...what about that?" SIMPLE....it was the act of a lone individual, NOT part of an organized effort under the umbrella of Christianity.....

    July 23, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  5. david stone

    I love how the defenders of islam trot out the abortion clinic being blown up by an individual, part of NO ORGANIZED GROUP, who claimed to be a Christian, as an analogy to concerted world wide effort in islam to kill non-believers, or to 3000 people being killed by a large GROUP of men all killing in the name of God, trained in a camp sponsored by a world-wide organization

    July 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  6. Joe

    Sounds like Gingrich's argument is strikingly similar to the anti-immigration crowd's points about how strict immigration policy is in places like Iran and North Korea, as though we're doing all right as long as we don't go as far as they do. Frankly, I don't want to see American policy determined by what is less disgusting than the worst options available.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
    • david stone

      yeah....bad he had to dance around what he and most of us really feel, which is that it is just plain a slap in the face to us all because the enemy of freedom and tolerance is planting a flag right on top of the remains of our people....islam is a cancer which hided under freedom of religion and asks for tolerance, but offers NO TOLERANCE for non-believers....they are to be converted, or killed....9/11 was a shining example of what this religion leads to, and a reminder that it is the ONLY organized religion which has large groups organized under its banner whose sole job is to plot the murder of others every day, all in the name of "God"

      July 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  7. bg in oregon

    In general I try to avoid all people who have imaginary friends.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  8. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    Well, I just gotta throw up my hands then. There are mosques all over the U.S. right now, in big cities and small towns alike. Don't post on the Internet about the threat of Islam. Tell us what you've been doing in your own community about it–not what you are going to do about it, or wish you could do about it, or will do about it–what you have been doing about it–you, who understand what a danger they are.

    Have you tried using your own freedom of speech, religion, and assembly to organize protests against mosques and Islamic community centers in your town? If you say, "the majority of Americans are with me on this," then it should be possible to get a group together. Look at the Tea Party. They organize and make their voice heard, locally and nationally, even though a lot of people call them names. If you say, "well, I'll be harassed or sued if I do it," then you don't have much courage when it comes to protecting you and your family, do you? How important an issue is it to you really? I mean, in what you do in everyday life–not just in what you say on the internet. If you say Muslims who speak of peace say empty talk, your talk of their threat is equally empty if you don't work to watch out for and educate your communities against it.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  9. The Wizard

    David- There is a way, amending the cosntitution. There is no way that anything undemocratic and incompatibile with our democracratic way of life should be allowed here. That includes Islam, Nazisim, communism, the KKK and other nutjobs of the same ilk. if they were all gone tomorrow just think, we'd be a great country again.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  10. Gumbee

    pee-pee on Islam!

    July 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  11. Some Dude

    None of this really matters. As proven by responses to 9/11, we Americans will react emotionally and do what we're told and think by our leaders–every time.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  12. g

    They have been planning this since the sweet, peace loving muslims rammed their planes into the WTC. It's the muslim version of reconquista.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  13. david stone

    All muslims have blood on their hands, for standing by silently as the worst among them have organized, and grown stronger and bolder. I'm really sick of hearing the "good muslims" trying to hold some moral high ground by saying "...yeah, but that is just a small minority doing those things..most of us are peaceful....blah blah blah..." If you are so peace loving then why are 99% of you dead silent when these things happen? Why doesn't the overwhelming majority stand up to the minority and snuff them out? Is it because you actually suppor them, or because you are cowards? Either way I have no use for you, and people are growing wise to your routine....

    July 23, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  14. John Zee

    Best article I have ever read from Stephen Prothero. Most of the time the stuff he writes makes me want to punch him in the face for being such an elitist idiot that's completely out of touch with the reality of the world around him. But this time it actually looks like he was paying attention. Kudos for catching a truth clue Stephen, and hopefully it will be pure quality from this point on as far as your article writing as a whole.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  15. cassie

    Yes, here we are again with basically the same topic – variations on a theme. It's puzzling why Mr. Prothero, a religious scholar, feels he has to keep pushing the idea of a mosque near ground zero and apparently believing those who don't agree with him are intolerant. We don't need a mosque, we need a dedicated holy ground, holy to everyone and a place where ALL can pray or meditate. A mosque, by it's very definition, EXCLUDES those of other faiths. We do not need that. We need healing from 9/11 and certainly it is a long way from being healed. Drop the idea of a mosque.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  16. The Wizard

    Blaklaw- Once again you show your ignorance. How much Islam was around at the time of our founding fathers for them to "tolerate".? It didn't exist in their land or their experience (though Jefferson read of it and was appalled). They broke away from England for several reasons, one of which was for tolerance of other Christian denominations not allowed by England. Do you really think they would have tolerated an even more tyrannical religion/organization/political/economic cult? You remain an ignorant tool.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
    • david stone

      Right....the founding fathers must be rolling in their graves as they see the evil, intolerant death cult known as islam slithering in under the door protected by "freedom of religion"....I can assure you that in no way would they have wanted this madness taking hold....an oversight on their part to be sure, and it may well be our undoing, the chink in our armor

      July 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  17. Mark

    Read your own hurtful words. You are bigots, racists, and blind idealogues. You don't know anything about Islam – you take words out of context. Is this Christian nation being very Christian right now? Listen to yourselves. You can say these awful things then log off the computer return to your jobs and your families. Cook dinner for your children and tell your husbands and wives you love them. Does that somehow make up for the intolerance and hatred in your hearts. No you don't see Muslims condemning terrorism on TV because that doesn't bring ratings. FOX news wouldn't dare to cover a story like that. You don't hear the voices of the many moderate Muslims in this society, the likes of Reza Aslan and Arsalan Iftikhar because they don't tell you what you want to hear. You want to see Muslim rage because it justifies your hatred. Here is another line you hate: The overwhelming majority of Muslims just want to live their lives in peace, raise their families, and be a part of their social communities. You don't like that line because it doesn't fire you up. You want jihad to mean blind holy war – when it doesn't. But you will be judged one day...not by any man but by your maker. Maybe He or She will look into your heart and find that hatred that you harbor. Then what will you do...what will you say...how will you justify your thoughts and actions?

    July 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
    • david stone

      BTW I forgot to ask.....if one is anti-islam, what RACE are they "racist" against?

      July 23, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
    • Luke

      david stone – Racism is a broad term that covers all sorts of forms of bigotry and hatred. Racism, while usually directed at segregating for example black and white, can bleed into Jewish and Muslim. It nevertheless, is the use of what you are doing throughout the entire thread to divide people.

      July 24, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  18. Why name it Cordoba House hmmm

    i think they should build it but my only question is why call it the house of Cordoba which was a great defeat of Christians and ruled by Muslims that makes we wonder i know Wiki is not a legit source but i back checked it and here is the jest makes me think they dont want peace

    At the time of Julius Caesar, Córdoba was the capital of the Roman province of Hispania

    It was captured in 711[3] by a Muslim army: in 716 it became a provincial capital, depending from the Caliphate of Damascus; in Arabic it was known as قرطبة (Qurṭuba). In May 766, it was elected as capital of the independent Muslim emirate of al-Andalus, later a Caliphate itself. During the caliphate apogee (1000 AD), Córdoba had a population of roughly 400,000 inhabitants,[4] though estimates range between 250,000 and 500,000. In the 10th-11th centuries Córdoba was one of the most advanced cities in the world, as well as a great cultural, political, financial and economic centre. The Great Mosque of Córdoba dates back to this time; under caliph Al-Hakam II Córdoba received what was then the largest library in the world, housing from 400,000 to 1,000,000 volumes.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  19. Nick San Diego

    Typical over reaction. Is there a Catholic Church near the Oklahoma Building that McVey bombed?? Or does anyone blame ALL Irish Catholics for that one. Wake up America , you're being led by people who want you to hate Muslims.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
    • david stone

      Probably not an issue because as far as I can tell there is no world-wide organized effort amongst catholics to blow up buildings, commit mass murder, etc.....weak analogy.....only in ISLAM is there a WORLD WIDE ORGANIZED EFFORT to commit mass murder in the name of "God"......trying to trot out examples where a so called "Christian" did some horrific act, COMPLETELY APART FROM ANY ORGANIZED SEGMENT OF THAT RELIGION....is just silly

      July 23, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  20. peter

    The muslims that died on 9/11 are victime of their faith just as everone else that died are vivtims of Islam. Over a billion others remain victims to this cult. Just because they died there does not validate Islam as a religion. If Islam never existed (pray for the day) those people would have worked today at the WTC.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:11 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.