Newt And The Mosque (And The Alien)

Newt Gingrich:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

The proposed “Cordoba House” overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks – is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites.  For example, most of them don’t understand that “Cordoba House” is a deliberately insulting term.  It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.

Today, some of the Mosque’s backers insist this term is being used to “symbolize interfaith cooperation” when, in fact, every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest.  It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way.

Those Islamists and their apologists who argue for “religious toleration” are arrogantly dishonest. They ignore the fact that more than 100 mosques already exist in New York City. Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia. In fact no Christian or Jew can even enter Mecca.

And they lecture us about tolerance.

If the people behind the Cordoba House were serious about religious toleration, they would be imploring the Saudis, as fellow Muslims, to immediately open up Mecca to all and immediately announce their intention to allow non-Muslim houses of worship in the Kingdom.   They should be asked by the news media if they would be willing to lead such a campaign.

Justin Elliott at Salon:

In a new blog post arguing against the planned Muslim community center near Ground Zero, Newt Gingrich explicitly argues that the United States should follow the lead of the oppressive theocracy of Saudi Arabia and reject the so-called Ground Zero mosque.

This is not a distillation or summary of his argument. Gingrich actually favors adopting the discriminatory policies of the Saudis.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

In this context, “double standards” means that the United States maintains a more pluralistic attitude toward religious minorities than Saudi Arabia does. Now, you could make the same kind of argument about any repressive policy in a place like Saudi Arabia. If women are not allowed to walk around freely in Saudi Arabia, then men should not be allowed to walk around freely in the United States!

Naturally, Gingrich would say that my proposal does not follow from his. Why? Well, because his argument depends on a parallel identity: Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country, and the U.S. is a Christian-Jewish country. Indeed, conservatives assert this so routinely that it’s no longer controversial or newsworthy: The United States is a Judeo-Christian country. (It sometimes attracts notice when they drop the “Judeo.”)

If you want to understand why this is such a toxic premise, just look at Gingrich. Because the premise that we are a Judeo-Christian nation naturally leads to the conclusion that non Judeo-Christians ought to enjoy less religious protection. That can be seen in his formulation of “us,” which excludes Muslims. And at that point there’s no longer any moral basis for differentiating the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. It’s not that they’re a theocracy and we aren’t. It’s that we’re one kind of religious country and they’re another kind.

To be clear, I’m not saying we are a theocracy or are becoming one. I’m saying that the now-dominant right wing view destroys any principled basis for giving equal treatment to religious minorities.

Matthew Yglesias:

Why on earth would we adopt this standard? There are no synagogues in the Vatican City, and yet we have Catholic churches all over the place. That’s because the United States of America isn’t a small city-state run by a religious leader. In Denmark, they have a state-sponsored church, but we don’t have a state-sponsored church because in the United States we have a strong belief in a brand of religious pluralism that’s served both the country and religion well. Saudi Arabia is notorious for its lack of freedom of religion, but we don’t improve anything by mimicking Saudi Arabia’s flaws.

One gets the sense that Gingrich’s reasoning is so weak here because he actually has no idea why it would make sense to prevent mosque-construction in Lower Manhattan. He just knows that this has become a far-right cause celebre and he likes to ride the far-right wave. If the far-right wants anti-Muslim bigotry, then he’ll provide it. But he’s an “ideas guy” so he has to try to think up a reason.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

Chait notes that in this context, the “double standard” is the United States’ tolerance and religious pluralism, which stands in contrast to the illiberalism of a country like Saudi Arabia. To Chait, what Gingrich wants to say is that since the United States is a “Judeo-Christian country,” we should be allowed to prohibit Muslim places of worship, much in the same way that an Islamic theocracy like Iran would prohibit Christian or Jewish places of worship.

I’ve always been struck by the disrespect some conservatives have for core American principles like religious pluralism and freedom of worship. Especially since these are often the same conservatives who insist on “originalism” when confronted with any constitutional problem. I don’t expect consistency from right-wing conservatives, but if they were going to pretend like their views were coherent — and not just a combination of vulgar resentment and anti-liberalism — then they’d at least note that the Founders weren’t particularly keen to label the United States a Christian or Judeo-Christian country. Here’s Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli (seen above), which was approved unanimously by the Senate and signed by President John Adams on June 7, 1797:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

I’m struck by how uncontroversial this treaty was; the revolutionary generation still dominated national politics, and the Senate was home to many of the men who drafted and signed the Constitution. What’s more, the text of the treaty was released to the public, and as far as I can tell, there was little — if any — opposition to Article 11. In the United States of 1797, no one took offense at the notion of an officially non-Christian government, even when the overwhelming majority of Americans identify with some flavor of Christianity. Of course, that’s not to say that religious beliefs were irrelevant to the actions of leaders, but that most people recognized the government as essentially non-sectarian.

As Gingrich demonstrates, modern conservatives have a lot of antipathy towards religious pluralism, at least as it applies to Muslims. And to me at least, it’s striking how little of it has to do with the country’s history, and how much of it has its origins in very contemporary resentments and prejudices.

D.B. Grady at The Atlantic:

One might ask Gingrich how many mosques are permissible in New York City. He appears to suggest 100 is too many. Perhaps we should bulldoze them all. In his fervor over preventing the construction of a new mosque, he’s advocating the very religious intolerance he denounces from abroad. Similarly, the complex is not being built on Ground Zero. It’s two blocks away. That, it seems, is too close. Perhaps the former Speaker could suggest a more permissible distance for a house of worship. Would Brooklyn be more appropriate? Surely, though, families of 9/11 victims live in Brooklyn. They live all across the United States. Maybe the Saudis are onto something.

“America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization,” Gingrich continued. “Sadly, too many of our elites are the willing apologists for those who would destroy them if they could.”

According to Daisy Kahn of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, “We decided we wanted to look at the legacy of 9/11 and do something positive” in order to “reverse the trend of extremism and the kind of ideology that the extremists are spreading.” In other words, exactly the sort of thing conservatives have been calling for Muslims to do for nine years.

“No mosque. No self deception. No surrender.”

Al Qaeda couldn’t have put it better themselves.

Daniel Larison:

From what we know of the promoters behind this project, Saudis have little or nothing to do with it, but Gingrich is hoping to conflate anyone involved with this project with Saudis. He is relying on his audience to remember that most of the hijackers were Saudis, to generalize from those 15 Saudis to all Saudis, and to identify all Muslims with the most extreme adherents of the most extreme forms of Islam. The purpose of this is not to resist “an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization,” because our civilization is in no danger of being destroyed by any such offensive, but to rile up people here and convince them that all Muslims are out to get them, which will in turn make them more receptive to the agenda of growing the security and warfare state that Gingrich et al. favor.

Gingrich complains that the original name of the building, Cordoba House, is itself an insult. References to Cordoba can mean many things. For Western ecumenists, Ummayad Cordoba represented a high-point of convivencia and therefore served as a model of multi-religious co-existence. What is usually not mentioned is how the cultural and intellectual life there stagnated later under the Almoravids and Almohads, nor do many remember the Mozarabic Christian martyrs of the early centuries of Islamic rule in Spain, and Gingrich doesn’t mention any of this, either. Then again, Gingrich is not really interested here in historical accuracy or understanding. Cordoba has also represented for Arab nationalists one of the high points of Arab culture, and for pan-Islamists it represented one of the most far-flung parts of the briefly-united caliphate, and it is only this latter meaning that Gingrich chooses to give to the name of the organization and the building project. Gingrich simply assumes bad faith on the part of the promoters, and that determines the entirety of his argument.

What may be most striking in Gingrich’s statement is his claim that “they” (i.e., Muslims) are lecturing “us” about tolerance, but what is happening is that “we” are being held to “our” own standards. Perhaps the most irritating thing about the arguments Gingrich and Palin are making is that they do not want to critique the idea of religious tolerance, but they don’t want to face up to what it might mean in practice.

UPDATE: Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo

UPDATE #2: Justin Elliott at Salon

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2 Comments

Filed under Political Figures, Religion

2 responses to “Newt And The Mosque (And The Alien)

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

  2. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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