If the common thread among these polls, politicians, and religious leaders prevails—if we quash the proposed Islamic center simply because it's Muslim—what will happen to our country? In the statements of the anti-mosque movement, we can already see where their argument leads us.
1. It justifies bigotry. Don't take it from me. Take it from Abe Foxman, the ADL's national director. When the New York Times asked him how the feelings of family members of 9/11 victims could justify the ADL's opposition to the mosque, he replied, "Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational." In the case of the 9/11 families, he argued, "Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted."
2. It justifies confining religions to ghettos. Dr. Land, the Baptist official, said religious communities are entitled to "places of worship within reasonable distance of where they live. However, no religious community has an absolute right to have a place of worship wherever they choose, regardless of the community's objections."
3. It justifies double standards against minorities. While denouncing the mosque proposal as an assault on non-Muslims, Gingrich wrote:
Last month, police in Dearborn, Mich., which has a large Muslim population, arrested Christian missionaries for handing out copies of the Gospel of St. John on charges of "disturbing the peace." They were doing so on a public street outside an Arab festival in a way that is completely permissible by law, but, of course, forbidden by sharia's rules on proselytizing. This is a clear case of freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom being sacrificed in deference to sharia's intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam.
So Muslims shouldn't worship near Ground Zero, but when Christians proselytize in Muslim areas, that's freedom of religion. And if Muslims get upset about that, it's evidence of Muslim intolerance.
4. It threatens other faiths. Comparing 9/11 to Pearl Harbor, Land asked: "Do the followers of Shinto have a right to have a shrine in Honolulu? Yes. In close proximity to the USS Arizona? No." He concluded that "it would be inappropriate to have a Japanese shrine in close proximity to the USS Arizona." Islam, Shinto—who's next?
5. It renounces pluralism. Again, don't take my word for it. Read Gingrich's words: "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." That's a straightforward message to illiberal Muslim regimes: If you won't rise to our level, we'll sink to yours.
6. It implies a global war on Islam. To rally Muslims against the United States, Bin Laden has repeatedly claimed we're at war with Islam. President Bush, recognizing Bin Laden's game, always exalted Islam as a peaceful religion and framed the U.S. response as a "war on terror," not on Islam. Gingrich says Bush is wrong and Bin Laden is right. In his case against the mosque proposal, Gingrich wrote:
Some radical Islamists use terrorism as a tactic to impose sharia, but others use non-violent methods—a cultural, political, and legal jihad that seeks the same totalitarian goal even while claiming to repudiate violence. Thus, the term "war on terrorism" is far too narrow a framework in which to think about the war in which we are engaged against the radical Islamists.
The mosque proposal, according to Gingrich, is an act of "cultural aggression" on behalf of "an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization." It's "all about conquest and thus an assertion of Islamist triumphalism which we should not tolerate." In short, violence is beside the point. We will now define Muslim aggression and conquest more broadly to include politics, law, and culture. And we'll start by telling Muslims not to pray near our "sacred" ground.
I can't think of a surer way to lose both our national soul and the struggle against terrorism. Yes, Mr. Gingrich and Ms. Palin, there's a cultural-political offensive afoot to undermine our civilization. And you're leading it. Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. William Saletan's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: