Like a shark drawn to blood, Newt Gingrich, whose nature apparently is to pick at painful wounds in the body politic in order to score partisan points and, more important for him, to keep his name in the news and feed his massive sense of self-importance, is still beating the drum of bigotry in opposition to Park51, the "Ground Zero mosque" that is neither at Ground Zero nor, strictly speaking, a mosque. And, faced with a New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has been nothing short of brilliant in articulating a defense of Park51 based on a lofty sense of what America is supposed to be all about, not to mention the reality that the powers-that-be have given the go-ahead for Park51 despite the uproar on the right, Gingrich is coming up with all sorts of new and stupid arguments and obstacles to block it. At TPM last week, Rachel Slajda had the latest:
"I think the Congress has the ability to declare the area a national battlefield memorial because I think we should think of the World Trade Center as a battlefield site; this is a war," he said, apparently thinking that if Ground Zero was a national park, Park51 would be restricted from building near it.
And if that fails, he said, the state government should step in and use its considerable power to stymie the development.
Funny, isn't it, how the anti-government Gingrich wants the government to step in and tell a private religious organization what to do? I suppose it's okay for the government to be heavy-handedly oppressive when it comes to Muslims but not when it comes to Christians or the "free" market. Gingrich certainly wouldn't want the government interfering in his world, telling him what to do, and yet government control is a fine weapon to wield against undesirables.
The reality, of course, is that Park51 isn't at Ground Zero. It's some distance away from it. Even if Ground Zero were to be declared some sort of "battlefield site," some sort of eternally sacred area, there would still be any number of private interests -- religious, commercial, etc. -- in the area. If Park51 should move, why not, say, restaurants and sex shops, video stores and whatever else is in the neighborhood? Because "this is a war," says Gingrich, which grossly misrepresents what is actually going on. Park 51 would be a Muslim community center, but, as President Bush himself stressed (to his credit), the U.S. isn't at war with Islam. It would be one thing if Park51 were some sort of pro-al Qaeda, pro-jihadist facility, a terrorist training camp, but of course it's not. In attacking it, and calling for it to be moved, conservatives like Gingrich are labeling all Muslims anti-American jihadists, an appallingly bigoted and disrespectful thing to do -- not least because there are many Muslims proudly serving in the U.S. military and because there were American Muslims who died on 9/11. (And, as has been noted, there's even a mosque at the Pentagon.)
Not that Gingrich cares about any of this. To him, this is merely a fantastic opportunity to keep up a visible media presence on an issue that Republicans have manufactured, with the media happy to oblige, to attack Democrats ahead of the midterms. But in portraying the "war" as both a religious and a civilizational conflict, he is playing directly, through fearmongering, to the deep-rooted nativism and ignorance of a large swathe of the American populace, not to mention of the Republican base.
I return to Bloomberg, who in contrast to Gingrich has spoken so eloquently, and so nobly:
Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.
This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.
I am tempted to say that Gingrich and those with him on this issue are with the terrorists -- and I will say that, because they are. In opposing Park51 they are proving to be very much like those attacked America on 9/11, not in terms of their violence but in terms of their articulation of a worldview that pits "us" against "them," that divides people instead of seeking to unite them, that clamors for war instead of working for peace, that mirrors the hatred and bigotry of our enemies with hatred and bigotry of our own. And in trying desperately to capitalize on and benefit politically from this issue, they are indeed letting the terrorists win.
America is better than this, is it not? America is better than Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and all the others who are waving the flag and pointing it menacingly at Muslims, calling for the government essentially to crack down on a specific religion just because a tiny minority of that religion attacked America, and because they so badly want this "war" to rule our lives.
Gingrich passes himself off as an intellectual, but he's really just a partisan thug who's read a few books and can speak coherently. He basks in bigotry and ignorance on this issue, as on so many others, and, no, Americans should not stand for it.
Cross-posted from The Reaction.