Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Gingrich Wrong on “Ground Zero Mosque”, Mostly

Newt Gingrich has taken what might be termed an ‘interesting’ position with respect to the Islamic building which people are trying to build down the block from Ground Zero. I refer to it as an Islamic building because the ongoing fight about whether it is a mosque or a cultural center is irrelevant. Typically, if you are in favor of the building’s construction, you refer to it as the latter and if opposed to it, as the former.
Personally, I think that ultimately it’s a reasonable, if not wise project. Though I think the timing and the process stink. This should not be about the assertion of religious rights but about the building of consensus. While those who favor construction clearly have rights on their side, they seem to be completely tone deaf regarding the feelings of those who are opposed.
It ‘s simply not true that all who oppose this building hate Muslims, any more than it is true that all those who oppose Israeli policy are anti-Semites. Sadly, those who support the building seem to appreciate the second claim, but not the first. But this is not about my response to the proposed mosque/cultural center, it’s about Newt’s. And it’s about why he’s wrong – not entirely, but largely.


Gingrich’s response is 20% intelligent critique of the American Muslim community’s inability to engage in appropriate self-critique, and their failure to champion the cause of freedom of religious expression, not only in America but in the world and for all religions. To that, add 60% ridiculous/erroneous analyses of the facts related to this particular issue, and 20% rage and you get the Newt Gingrich approach to why the Mosque at Ground Zero ought not to be built. His position is actually proof that no matter how smart someone may be, and Newt Gingrich is very smart, it’s no guarantee that your stance on any given issue will be as smart as you.
Gingrich’s claim that there should be no mosque at Ground Zero “as long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia” is inane unless one assumes two things: A, that we should now use Saudi Arabia as our benchmark for what is appropriate as far as freedom of religious expression, and unless they are as good as we are, we need not be as good as we have traditionally been. And B, that this is a Saudi project lead by people who could change the Saudi position on religious freedom but have failed to do so.
The first assumption should embarrass anyone proud of America’s history of religious freedom being second to none and never contingent on the behavior of other nations. I am not looking for parity with Saudi Arabia, and can’t imagine why any American would settle for that. We should be proud that we are arguably the best nation in the world on religious freedom, not proud to be equal to, or slightly better than, some other nation doing a lousy job, as Gingrich’s approach would have us be.
His second assumption is simply unfounded. There is no question that the funding of this project should be more transparent than it is, but to suggest that it is a Saudi project or that its supporters could change Saudi policy and should be punished for not doing so, is simply absurd.
As to the history of Cordoba, Mr. Gingrich is partially correct. Life under medieval Muslim rulers was no picnic for Jews and Christians, and would certainly not pass any test of American constitutionality – not even close. But it’s also true that life under Medieval Islam was far better for Jews and Christians than life had been for Jews and Muslims living under Christian rule. So if Gingrich wants to remind us of the past sins of one religious community, he ought to remind us of them all. Failing that, his selective reading of history does sound suspicious, even to those of us who are tired of all questions about Islam being met with the cry of “Islamophobe”.
Newt Gingrich may be right that building any Islamic structure that close to Ground Zero is bad idea, at least for now. But his arguments for that position are at least as bad as the worst ones which favor its construction. We need to think this one out together, not compare the best of whatever tradition we hold dear to the worst of whichever one we oppose.

  • withyobadsel

    republicans are for…tax breaks…no regulation…less government… no unions. for the rich only…there are not enough rich people in America to keep the republicans in office…so the republicans along with fox news spread propaganda to the not rich…for votes only…the republicans have to give the not rich a reason to vote republican since it doesn’t benefit anyone who is not rich to vote republican besides waiting for money to trickle down to the average income Americans… in the george bush days the republicans told the not rich that if they didnt vote republican… the not rich people were not true americans…they didnt have morals…they weren’t good christians… not rich people who vote republican…vote republican for reasons that wont improve the lifestyle of the not rich… the not rich republican voters fight about… abortion…gays… keeping jesus in schools….and now not building a muslim building because jesus is #1…all of these issues will not improve the not rich lifestyle… these issues will keep the republicans in office to take care of the rich only…and scrapes will trickle down to the peasants…

  • Dr. Paul K. Fauteck

    Rabbi Hirschfield hit the nail squarely on the head with this essay. At first I thought the comment by withyobadsel was ranging pretty far afield, but ultimately Newt’s remarks do fit into the overall Republican strategy of scaring and shaming middle class and working class Americans into voting against their own best interests. Fear and hatred can be powerful influences on human behavior. The right-wing leaders have become experts at playing on these.
    Our nation has been through some very difficult times before, but at present I’m somewhat pessimistic about our future.

  • Zebulun

    His position is actually proof that no matter how smart someone may be, and Newt Gingrich is very smart, it’s no guarantee that your stance on any given issue will be as smart as you.
    A valuable nugget of wisdom, Rabbi Hirschfield!

  • Barb

    My comment has nothing to do with hatred …..a mosque at ground zero is in very poor taste.

  • Midian

    Mosque at ground zero? Well, let’s see: Could say that is NYs problem. Let that city battle it out with themselves. Oh, it’s called ground zero for a reason. There use to be some buildings there. It was called a terrorist attack on the US. It wasn’t called a terrorist attack on NY, but all of the United States. Boys and girls from all states has served their duty in our US military so more attacks didn’t take place. So the boys and girls got killed fighting for the freedom of the United States died in vain, for no reason but to have a Mosque by the place we have fought for, for 9 yrs. Our boys and girls have done a good job keeping America safe from more terrorist attacks. Is this the reward they get, knowing a Mosque in honor of all there hard work and lives have served the purpose of. And then to call it a sign of peace, a place to bring everyone together. The Dome of the Rock is in the place where the Temple use to be. Oh to promote peace was why they did it, get real.

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