Home National Politics Gerson Absolutely Right, Douthat Dead Wrong on Islamic Center

Gerson Absolutely Right, Douthat Dead Wrong on Islamic Center


This morning, we have two editorials on the proposed “Ground Zero” (actually, it’s several blocks away from the World Trade Center site) Islamic center by conservative newspaper columnists. The first, “Obama’s mosque duty” by Michael Gerson, gets it exactly right. The second, “Islam in Two Americas”, couldn’t be more misguided. First, former George W. Bush Administration speechwriter (“smoking gun/mushroom cloud,” “Axis of Evil”) Gerson.

First off, I agree with Gerson that President Obama has, in this case, exhibited “a peculiar talent for enraging his critics while deflating the enthusiasm of his friends.” Thus, Obama’s Ramadan speech was “an unqualified defense of both religious liberty and religious tolerance,” but then Obama appeared to back off somewhat, at least in tone. Exasperating.

Other than being awkward and frustrating, however, I agree with Gerson that “Obama had no choice but the general path he took.” As Gerson explains, if Obama had come out in opposition to the right of Muslims – or any other religious group – to build a house of worship anywhere in America, it would have constituted “an unprecedented act of sectarianism, alienating an entire faith tradition from the American experiment.”  

Also, as Gerson explains, this is not a matter of “poltiical correctness” but of “national interest.” The fact is, we were attacked on 9/11 not by “Islam,” but by a few lunatics/extremists/fanatics who pervert and misread Islam, prompting the vast majority of Muslims to renounce them, issue fatwas against them, etc. From a national intererst and national security perspective, that’s exactly the reaction we want to encourage,  “draw[ing] a line that isolates the politically violent and those who tolerate political violence — creating solidarity with Muslim opponents and victims of radicalism.”

One great way to do that, by the way, is to demonstrate to Bin Laden and his despicable ilk that we represent his utter antithesis, that we are an open and pluralistic and tolerant society that even allows members of his faith to build a mosque a few blocks away from the scene of his assault on our nation. Is there a better way to raise a giant middle finger to Bin Laden and Company than that?  

According to Gerson – and I completely agree with him – “those who want a president to assert that any mosque would defile the neighborhood near Ground Zero are asking him to undermine the war on terrorism.”

In fact, as Gerson – Christian evangelical, Heritage Foundation conservative, Karl Rove recruit, Bush Administration speechwriter – concludes, “[a] war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible.” I would add that a “war on Islam” would also be antithetical to everything America stands for, would be wildly counterproductive, and would appeal to the absolutely worst parts of our character. Why anyone, other than right-wing demagogues like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, would want to do this is simply mind boggling.

Now, we proceed to Ross Douthat’s latest apologia for bigotry, intolerance, and counterproductive policy. On August 12, we were treated to the full Douthat treatment – shoddy illogic, wildly confused “reasoning,” failure to seriously reconcile the contradictions in his own thinking, a fundamental misunderstanding of what America’s all about – on the issue of gay marriage. Today, we get Douthat’s muddle-headed, incoherent, misguided “Islam in Two Americas”, in which he attempts to argue that there is “real wisdom” in a “cruder, more xenophobic…second America [which] persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Well, yeah, just as there was “real wisdom” in Archie Bunker. I mean, seriously, we’re now supposed to admire not the ideasl expressed in the Statue of Liberty, but instead the people who persecuted our immigrant ancestors, whether they were Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Italian, African, Native American, or any other race, ethnicity or creed? Uh, no, I don’t think so.

Having said that, I certainly agree with Douthat that it’s wrong for Americans, including Muslim Americans, to describe our country “‘an accessory to the crime’ of 9/11.” That language is inflammatory, wildly offensive, and just plain stupid. But none of that justifies making excuses – as Douthat does in his article – bigotry, intolerance, or the rejection of America’s fundamental freedoms and values as expressed in our constitution and the first amendment. You’d think that someone who writes for a world-class newspaper like the New York Times would understand that. Apparently not.

  • blue bronc

    I doubt Obama, remember when he was going to be in touch with the U.S. via text msg, has any connection to outside the WH gates anymore.

    On the campaign trail he was knockout great. In the lead up to the inauguration he started shedding brass and going right. After in office he has shown almost no leadership on anything.

     Then I see the video of his Friday speech and thought “wow. He grew a pair.”  Saturday, it was back to the old Obama. No leadership, unable to stand for anything, unable to fight for anything.  That is why we are still in Iraq (oh that is right, the “combat” troops are out), Afghanistan/Pakistan, the bush appointees are still running the government because he has not fired them, and the Post Master is still working hard to destroy the USPS and privatize it.

  • Did that actually happen, or did Politico just say that happened so they could “win” Sunday morning? My impression was the latter.  

  • See here for some photos of ‘stuff the same distance from the World Trade Center as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’.”  Now, if Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich want to rant and rave about the “New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club” and Off-Track Betting eing close to “Ground Zero,” I might actually be able to see their point. But going ape**** over a cultural center to promote tolerance and to provide a place for Muslims to worship peacefully? I don’t think so.

  • See here for more, and realize that this entire “controversy” is manufactured demagoguery by Palin, Gingrich, etc.

  • aznew

    The problem with the President’s position on this, IMHO, is that he is unwilling to call out Gingrich, Palin, and the rest of that crowd for what they really are.  

    At the end of the day, after all the conversation, opposition to the Islamic Center comes down to the fact that it is, well, Islamic. That is religious bigotry, pure and simple.

    Now, do I understand how, under the circumstances, family members of persons killed on 9/11 might have emotional reactions to the Islamic Center overcome their better judgment in evaluating its location near the WTC? Of course I do. I knew businesses acquaintances killed on 9/11, but no one related to me and no one I loved, and I’m not going to judge, I am incapable of judging, the manner in which people who did manifest and express their grief.

    But what excuse do Gingrich, Palin and the rest of their gang whipping up people against this Islamic Center have for their bigotry? Is it possible that they are simply Muslim-hating bigots — Father Coughlins for a new generation?

    Well, I don’t know any of these folks personally, and all I get to see of them are their public personas, so I don;t know if they, in their hearts, are truly bigots, but to the extent it matters, my gut feel is that they are not.

    Rather, I think Gingrich and Palin are charlatans cynically detecting and exploiting the prejudices of millions of their fellow citizens in pursuit of their own desire for personal political power, and President Obama should have called them out for their shameful and disgusting actions.

    And, FWIW, the fact that Obama failed to do so, for me, says it all about what has been wrong with his leadership and why Democrats and Progressives are so dispirited these days.  

  • blue bronc

    MSNBC has an article about Joe Scarborough backing the Cultural Center (IIRC it is not a mosque). And chews on the Newt.

  • weighs in with an interesting point on all of this:

    In an interview just now, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform made a point about the “ground zero mosque” controversy that I hadn’t heard before. One reason that opponents are going to have trouble legally preventing Park51 from building its Muslim cultural center is that, in 2000, a Republican Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. It’s not that this was a partisan effort. It passed by voice vote in the House and Senate, and was helped through the higher body by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). The goal of the legislation, supported by a coalition of religious groups, was to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Employment Division Department of Human Resources v. Smith and give churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship more power in disputes with local and municipal authorities.

    This was one of the great victories of the religious right,” said Norquist. “And now some people want to scrap it to make this point?

    • I’m asking someone to show exactly how he “qualified” his remarks.