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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Newt and the Religious “Double Standard”

As you may have noticed, the latest right-wing “scandal” (at least for those who are not mesmerized by the “exposure” of liberal opinion in the leaked archives of the JournoList) is the planned construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York. This is essentially a local land use issue of the sort that New York authorities deal with every day, but the “threat” of this mosque has already become a cause celebre around the country, particularly with the Tea Party folk.
But the most radical reaction so far has been not from any Tea Party spokesman or talk radio jock, but from the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a putative presidential candidate in 2012, Newt Gingrich. Check this statement out:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

Yes, Gingrich is arguing that religious liberty for Muslims in the United States should be made contingent on religious liberty for non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Anything less is a “double standard.”
I suppose this sounds reasonable to people who think all or most Muslims are “Islamists,” or buy Newt’s dubious assertion that the name of the proposed facility, Cordoba House, is a deliberate Islamist provocation aimed at heralding some future armed conquest of the United States. But put aside the particulars here and think about the idea that a unilateral commitment to religious liberty by the United States represents a “double standard” inviting our destruction.
This isn’t a particularly new idea. For a very long time some American Protestants resisted full civil rights for Catholics on grounds that Catholic countries did not extend similar rights to Protestants. You’d think Newt Gingrich, as a very avid recent convert to Catholicism, would be aware of that history and its relevance to his “double standard” argument.
Newt’s line, of course, is an analog to the argument beloved of some conservatives that in the civilizational struggle with Islamism, American principles of decency–say, a reluctance to torture prisoners–are just signs of contemptible weakness that make our enemies laugh at us. It’s richly ironic that the kind of people who deeply believe in “American exceptionalism”–the notion that much of what is good on this planet would disappear if America began to resemble countries like Canada or England or France–are sometimes among the first to argue that America should abandon its distinctive beliefs whenever it is convenient. But Gingrich carries the freedom-is-weakness argument to a brand new extreme. Wonder how his fans would react if he suggested that the right to bear arms should be suspended for the duration of the War On Terror to keep guns out of the hands of Islamists? The mind reels.

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