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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. KRG

    Yes, Paul, no trouble at all, that's why they've held creaming, divisive townhalls about it. And that's why it's ALL OVER the media, with everyone & their brother feeling entitled to weigh in.

    Nope, no trouble.

    (By the way, not at all Saudi-funded. But Gingrich's column sure made you think so, huh?)

    July 26, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  2. Reality

    Some more reasons why there should be no mosques anywhere on the face of the globe:

    Islam’s widespread practice of amputating the cl–itoris and sometimes part or even all of the v–ulva from the g–enitalia of Muslim women, affirmed in a hadith by Mohammed himself, most likely also traces back to the founder’s deliberate abuse of s–ex to lure pagan males into his cult. The more the male s–ex drive is purposefully aroused, the more the female s–ex urge may have to be proportionately suppressed, lest orgi–astic hell begin to spread.

    July 25, 2010 at 12:15 am |
  3. oneStarman

    DON"T GIVE THEM ANY IDEAS -With xenophobic Know-Nothingism running rampant in this country I don't think its a good idea to give the Amer – NAZI – Tea Party material for their Party Platform

    July 24, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  4. Reality

    More reasons why there should be no mosques anywhere on the face of the globe:

    Islam’s Koran and Madrasas

    The world needs to be warned. At least 40 million Muslim youth in the Muslim world’s religious schools, called madrasas, are avidly memorizing the entire Koran plus a generally extremist body of related traditions—the hadiths. In the hands of extremists—whether run by Saudi Wahabbists, Osama bin Laden’s follows or Indonesian mullahs—these schools become breeding grounds for potential terrorists. Early in the training, Muslim teachers especially focus pliable young minds on dozens of the Koran’s extremely militant war verses, plus other texts that assure paradise for Muslim martyrs. Hatred for Jews and Christians (largely synonymous with Israel and America) and general disdain for all non-Muslims (defined by Muslim instructors as the House of War) are deeply instilled. The Bible is described as corrupted. Separation of Islam from political control is despised.

    July 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  5. Kilfoy

    I wonder if they plan to teach people that the act was caused by men in the name of Islam? This seems parallel to having a Christian youth camp at Jonestown or a German Heritage Center at Dachau. Though in some ways it may meant to heal wounds, I think it is out of place.

    Why do we need any religious building at Ground Zero? It is a public place that is sacred to all Americans. Do we then need something representative of all religions there? Do we really need something there extolling the virtues of any religion, much less Islam?

    July 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • Luke

      There's a CAtholic church a few blocks away. And the community center in question is a block or two further than that. Both are very close. What's your point?

      July 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  6. Larrywp

    This guy is a fool; and an idiot who has apparently convinced a Catholic University of his credentials and his principles. He argues that building an Islamic shrine next to Ground Zero is, somehow, a test of America's commitment to religious freedom. That is such horse hockey that I cannot believe CNN allowed this guy a forum. New York is full of mosques and holy places of all sorts for muslims. So, one more of these shrines built across the street from the horrifying result of Islamic zeal is going to somehow prove that we believe in religious freedom?? I not only don't think so; I think that anyone who believes that trite argument is either demented or an active or a muslim, or both. He then proposes to dismiss Newt Gingrich by shaming him with a quote by Susannah Heschel in her book about pre-war Germany. He clearly knows little about life in Germany in the 1930's, because he acts as if Christian writers were completely free of Hitler's heavy hand when writing about Jews. Then he quotes Heschel by saying that "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.'" Sort of describes Islamic writings about other religions and civilizations, doesn't it? By the way, Islam is not just a religion, it is a whole cadre of social and criminal edicts which are meant to create and dominate an entire culture. It's called sharia law. NO MOSQUE!! NO WAY!!

    July 24, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  7. Sherri

    Stephen Prothero is a very naive man. His head is in the sand. The very reasons that he thinks it should be built are why it should not. Why give tolerance to those who do not practice it? This was not an accidental chosen site. It was chosen to slap us in the face. Why else? Get real. Wake up America. Muslims hate us for all we stand for. They are standing on the corners in NYC passing out flyers calling for 'actions on Americans'. They want us dead. They will fly planes into buildings, bomb our cities until we stand up for ourselves. Get the movie The Third Jihad and listen to what they want for U.S. and the rest of the world. WAKE UP

    July 24, 2010 at 2:40 am |
  8. Tommie

    Think the people of NYC need to investigate the relationship between Dhimmi and the mosque sponsors. Why would Dhimmi be so helpful? Can't be the money. Since Dhimmi is one of the richest men in the world. Has Dhimmi shown anti-American sentiments in the past?

    July 24, 2010 at 12:34 am |
    • Luke

      What exactly is anti-American about a group of Americans constructing a community center and a prayer room?

      July 24, 2010 at 1:13 am |
  9. Manuel

    Are Buddhist, Christian, Bahai, Jewish or other temples or churches allowed in certain Islamic countries? Is a christian person allowed to walk with a bible or a crucifix in an islamic country? Are christian women or of other religion besides Islam, not forced to wear a veil when visiting certain Islamic countries? Then why should we permit islamic people to do whatever they want in our countries?

    Our good-hearted liberal people who believe in freedom for every one are not realists with respect to islamic people. Do every one forgot what happened in France not long ago? Some good islamic people have migrated to our countries, but who will guarantee that their sons or grandsons won't become islamists believing in violence and oppression in our own countries? That is precisely what happened in France. It does not matter if in that case in particular there was also an economic factor. Other people in bad economic situations in France did not resort to violence like they did.

    There have been cases in India in which islamic people were welcomed and helped with their needs in a village. After a number of years, when they have become the majority of the population, they began harassing and oppressing the villagers members of other religions.

    In New York City I have heard several foreign islamic taxi drivers use the Middle Ages Crusades as a sort of justification for their violence of nowadays. What they don't say is that the Crusades were a violent reaction to their violent invasions of the 7th and 8th century in North Africa, Spain and the Middle East. During those times they massacred entire populations, destroyed and looted churches, temples and monasteries.

    That is not a religion of peace. Read the history of the foundation of that religion and see if it was founded on peace. It is not like the religions of Buddha, Jesus, Zarathustra or others that were not orignally founded on invasions, conquests, slaughter and destruction. I am not saying that in those other religions there was never violence later on after their foundations but never to the scale of Islam. The word "Jihad" in the sense of holy war, did not begin after the Crusades. I started at the very beginning of Islam.

    Please don't be deceived by our own beliefs of freedom for everyone because Islamic people don't believe in it. If the Islamic people are so content with that kind of life, then why they don't stay in their countries and keep enjoying their historic an traditional absence of freedom. There, they can build as many mosques as they want.

    My belief is that their plan is to creep into our nations to gain power and to bring more and more of the Islamic way of life. An then, that would be the beginning of a disaster in our countries that will lead us and our descendants to another Dark Age.

    July 23, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
    • oneStarman

      WHY DO UNTO OTHERS – when they might not do unto you like you want? Because That's what JESUS told us to do. The argument that we should jump off a building because Johnny did so – is a poor one.

      July 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  10. Tommie

    When Dhimmi agreed to the mosque did the tell him they were going to open it on 9/11/11. Can be sure that radical muslims from all over the world will come to visit to oogle at the gravesite. Way to go Dhimmi Bloomberg.

    July 23, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  11. Gil T

    Gingrich, media celebrities and others purport to speak as individuals of the faith that is in Christ Jesus. I do not dispute or question Gingrich’s personal faith or conviction. I do reject his message. Anyone can demand my weakness or submission. I am not compelled to submit. I submitted in all my weakness to Jesus not as per his demands, but as the love of God compels those who put their trust on Him

    July 23, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  12. LadyInfinity

    Freedom of religion isn't the real issue here:
    My problem with it is that the muslims come to America for freedom. They bring their Muslim faith with them, but they can't stand to live the consequences of their faith! Their own government, which rules by Muslim law, degrades women, stones offenders, have public whippings and beatings (homosexuals don't stand a chance). etc etc etc. If they don't like their own religion, why bring it over here and expect us to embrace it with open arms???

    July 23, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      LadyInfinity, they have no issues with their religion, its their government and the extremist that they are fleeing.

      July 23, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  13. Mark Burks

    This is Quite a "Take":
    Gingrich opposes a mosque near "Ground Zero" – a site of international significance, arguing that intolerance in Islamic nations contributing to impropriety in siting it there – and Mr Prothero argues that Gingrich is violating their religious freedom.

    If I oppose my neighbor painting his house Day-Glo Orange, if I object, if I argue with my neighbor, if I protest, if I tell the other neighbors my thoughts, if I oppose it on the radio, if I set up a website and object, I am not violating anyone's freedoms or rights.

    If Jews protested and opposed the establishment of a Catholic Convent on the grounds of a Nazi death camp, did they violate religious freedoms? If the Catholic Church reconsidered the location of such a convent, then agreed it was inappropriate and closed it, were Catholics' freedoms to practice their religion violated?

    July 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Mark Burks, that is irrelevant, it did not happen in the States, if it did then yes it would have interfered with the open practice of a religion.

      July 23, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  14. Cletus

    Look at nations where Muslims are in the majority. How much tolerance do they have for any other religion of any kind? Islam is not a religion; it is spiritual totalitarianism and slavery for women.

    July 23, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
  15. krashundburn

    I propose a solution:

    We allow the Cordoba mosque – sorry – "community center", if they allow a portrait of Allah in the lobby.

    That should settle the insensitivity issue, no?

    July 23, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  16. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    I get back to my original question, David–what have you been doing about it? I gather you've known for a while now how serious the threat is. If you think about it, a mosque is a group of Muslims who have organized in their community. Have you counter-organized with like-minded people, picketed, spoken out together in public about the truth regarding Muslim beliefs? Again, the Tea Party shows what's possible when it comes to organizing both locally and nationally.

    To take an extreme example, just about no one seems to support the Westboro Baptist Church, yet they haven't allowed themselves to be shut down–they're out there saying their piece, and where they go, they get attention. So it's not true that only those who sound nice and tolerant are allowed to be heard. There are clearly a lot of people who agree with you; have you organized against Muslims in your neighborhood, the way people do on all sorts of issues important to them?

    July 23, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  17. Metal USA

    Yeah I've see all of this and history portrays it.
    Blah, Blah, Blah....Religion what a joke, how many time has religion been used for violence, conquest, pedophiles etc..
    Get on your knees and confess your sins little boy...What!!,those confessional booths ain't for that!
    Holy water..Ha, more like tax free profits.
    I think states should be divided by the types of music they listen to. for instance.
    Memphis or the state Tennessee would be a country state.
    California and Washington should be metal states.
    Louisiana should be a Jazz state. If you don't like it get out. Government submitters will help you move . couldn't be any worse than welfare.
    Move to the state where the music of your belief is... or suffer the consequences.
    Sure there would be speakeasies with people listing to music other than the states designated music.
    But if caught punishment would be delivered with extreme predigests.

    July 23, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  18. LadyInfinity

    We ARE a Christian Nation! If we can't stand up for our Beloved Saviour Jesus Christ, then who will? If Muslims don't like our religion then let them go back to their ungodly country and live under their ungodly government rules and let them all be stoned to death by their own old testament religion! Nuff said.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
    • david stone

      Right. I'm not a really religious person, but have enough smarts to see that we are still overwhelmingly a CHRISTIAN country, and that it is perfectly reasonable to NOT want an islamic "war memorial" erected on ground zero, which is EXACTLY what it will be to all of them that plot our death.

      July 23, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  19. os khosh

    I was born and raised in a minority family in muslim majority country. There was never a day we were reminded we are 2nd class citizen. Those saying we shuold allow build a mosque near ground zero, don't understand the how muslim treat the minorities in muslim majority country. Those bleeding heart liberal will say, so what, we will win their heart and mind with our openness, we are in higher moral ground than them . They know it very well and they will exploit it and the law of this land in every possible way. They will never accept the American value, they will be bigger and will gradually demand more to chip away the American law to estabilish their Islamic way of life, will never melt in the melting pot. Every weekend I meet with them here in America since we speak same ethnic language, belive me, I know them for the last 20 to 30 yrs but belive me majority of them hate America, they are here only for opportunity. Sad to say this bleeding hurt liberal will instantly say I am racist, I have no problem with that. I am just saying this from my experience. I love this county more than my life. I am not able to serve in armed forces because my age but I am proud my son is in the process to fillful that wish by joining the military.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
    • david stone

      Thanks. That is pretty much how I've seen things for a while now. The problem is that islam doesn't lend itself to a "melting pot" philosophy. Convert or Die is the mantra, not "hold hands and let's all be one happy family". Most of them that have come here are here to get what they can get, plain and simple. They are never going to just "blend in" to our tolerant society. The Dutch and French have figured this out recently, and it shows. Every other group we have allowed in has at least to SOME degree assimilated, but islamic immigrants are ISLAMIC FIRST, American SECOND. This is a huge issue that is just ignored most of the time.

      July 23, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
    • Luke

      I do very much enjoy your propaganda – Bleeding Heart Liberal in particular. I was hoping if you could explain how following the US Constitution, particularly the Freedom of Religion clause, makes thee a bleeding heart liberal? You see, that is our argument. It is my guess that many of us bleeding heart liberals don't like the violence that comes with Islam anymore than you do. In fact, we don't like all of the violence that Christendom has brought with it. We see the problem as religion itself, not just one particular world view on what happens when you die. We merely believe that you have freedoms in this country that cannot be infringed upon simply because you don't worship Yahweh the same way another does. Or if another happens to worship Vishnu or Lord Ganesh; he can do so with the respect of his neighbors. Banning religion, while I would just get all giggly with joy and warm inside if all of them simply vanished overnight, is a step in the wrong direction in the USA. I find it so utterly ironic that I'm the one – the strident atheist – that has to stand up for the Muslims on this thread. Hell, maybe the Muslim world will see it and realize that it's the atheists that stood up first, not the Christians or Jews.

      July 24, 2010 at 1:26 am |
  20. steveb

    For what its worth: I believe that islam is mandated to expand itself throughout the world, to displace all other religion and all other ways of life. They have said as much. They have said they will use any means necessary like war, deception, misdirection, etc. This sounds evil to us but to them its just what Islam needs to do. So when they say that 'its just a mosque' they are only saying that to get their trophy. They will lie or say anything as long as it achieves their ends. In Muslim society, lying your rear off is not immoral especially for if its for the betterment of Islam. Actually, the only time lying is bad is getting caught doing it. The Muslims that want to build their Trophy are depending on us believing them, they are depending on our freedom of religion to achieve their end, they believe we are idiots. I would suggest looking at this issue with that in mind and decide as a country if we want an Islamic Trophy on Ground Zero. Its as simple as that.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
    • david stone

      You are SPOT ON. This is the ultimate symbol of victory for those who planned and supported what happened. NOTHING would make Bin Laden and his crowd more gleeful than to see a mosque built over the remains of our dead, who were killed in the name of that religion that day. That ALONE should be all the reason any thinking, rational American needs to oppose this. Even if you are a tolerant sort and have no issue with islam, use your brain, that just isn't the place for a mosque.....

      July 23, 2010 at 6:53 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.