Islamophobia is on the march. In New York, opponents of a Muslim community center and mosque are trying to stop its construction near the site of the 9/11 attacks. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, is leading a jihad to nationalize the mosque fight and turn it into a culture war over "Islamism." Meanwhile, uprisings against mosque construction have broken out in Tennessee, California, and Wisconsin. "I learned that in 20 years with the rate of the birth population, we will be overtaken by Islam, and their goal is to get people in Congress and the Supreme Court to see that Shariah is implemented," a Tea Party activist tells the New York Times. "I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion. But Islam is not about a religion. It's a political government, and it's 100 percent against our Constitution."
It's true that our Constitution is under threat. But that threat isn't coming from Muslims. They're less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, according to a report issued last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. To mess with the Constitution, you'd need a majority. The sort of majority you'd find, say, in the backlash against the New York mosque. And you'd need a charismatic ideologue, or at least a shrewd opportunist, to galvanize that majority into a political force. In this case, Gingrich.
A number of Web sites, bloggers, and newspapers—TPM, Salon, Wonkette, Matt Yglesias, Amy Sullivan, Alan Jacobs, the Times, the Baltimore Sun, and many others—have stepped forward to challenge Gingrich's demagoguery. Now Gingrich and his spokesman are fighting back. In particular, they've targeted Slate. But their answers only clarify the danger they represent.
Gingrich's spokesman, Rick Tyler, has responded in Slate to an article I wrote last week. The article said that Gingrich's campaign against the New York mosque serves the interests of Osama Bin Laden. It helps al-Qaida convince Muslims that our "war on terrorism" is really a war on Islam.
Not true, says Tyler. He writes: "Aligning the former Speaker's truthful remarks about our enemies and his opposition to an ill-conceived and nefarious plan to build a mosque on New York's most hallowed ground with those of Osama bin Ladin's pack of lies is intellectually dishonest."
There's that telltale phrase again: a mosque. It's the same phrase Gingrich used a week ago: "It is simply grotesque to erect a mosque at the site of the most visible and powerful symbol of the horrible consequences of radical Islamist ideology." The same phrase Sarah Palin used: "To build a mosque at Ground Zero is a stab in the heart of the families of the innocent victims of those horrific attacks." The same phrase Rudy Giuliani used when he called it "a mosque that's in exactly the wrong place." The same phrase Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican presidential aspirant, used this weekend: "I'm strongly opposed to the idea of putting a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero."
Gingrich, Palin, Giuliani, and their followers keep trying to dress up their complaint as a question about who's running or funding the New York project. But the truth keeps slipping out: They're against "a mosque"—any mosque—near the "sacred" and "hallowed ground" of the World Trade Center.
Here's Gingrich on July 21: "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." And again: "No mosque. No self deception. No surrender." And again on Aug. 3, in a TV exchange with Bill O'Reilly: "I noticed in your last interview, you could not get your guest to respect the overwhelming majority of family members from 9/11 who do not want to see a mosque near ground zero."
Check out Gingrich's interview on Good Morning America last Monday. George Stephanopoulos begins by noting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "said that she's not all nervous about the mid-terms. Should she be?" Gingrich replies:
With 9.5 percent unemployment, with a majority of Americans wanting to repeal Obama's health-care plan, with a majority of Americans favoring Arizona over the Obama administration on immigration, with the majority of Americans opposing a mosque at Ground Zero, with a majority of Americans feeling that the stimulus failed and that the Democratic Party increasingly is the party of job killers, I think that that's what's going to be the key this fall.
No need to ask about the mosque. Gingrich brings it up himself. Why? Because a "majority of Americans" oppose it. It's a handy new wedge issue. In his rebuttals to Slate and the Baltimore Sun, Tyler makes the same point: "New Yorkers oppose the 'Cordoba House Initiative' project by a whopping 61-26 percent."