Alex Massie

The Deplorable Newt Gingrich

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Whither American conservatism? Well, there's the path trod by Reihan Salam, Josh Barro and Ross Douthat, each of whom have produced sane and humane pieces on the Burlington Coat Factory Community Center otherwise known as the "Ground Zero Mosque" or you can hitch your wagon to Newt Gingrich's caravan and cheer when this self-styled man of ideas splutters:

“Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in Washington,”

This is at least admirably clear and eliminates any requirement one may feel to give Gingrich the benefit of the doubt. He doesn't even have the excuse that any of his family were murdered at the World Trade Center. (Though as Matt Zeitlin says a stupid and ugly thought remains stupid and ugly even when delivered by a 9/11 relative.)

Gingrich, however, goes further than many "mosque" opponents, plenty of whom have been assuring one that while of course these muslims have the right to build their community center on Park Place they shouldn't go ahead with their plans**. Gingrich doesn't bother with that pretence which is, in a way, refreshing.

In Gingrich's world all muslims must, it seems, be held responsible for al-Qaeda's actions and should consider themselves tainted by their co-religionists. That this makes no kind of sense at all matters not a jot to this buffoon and may, god knows, actualy be part of the point. Who can tell? It's as ridiculous as holding all Irishmen responsible for the IRA. As Reihan says, the notion that Islam is some kind of monolithic, malevolent force is as widespread as it is ignorant and a view, more to the point, which greatly exagerrates its political and military capabilities.

Granted one should not make the mistake of treating Gingrich as seriously as he thinks he should be treated. Nevertheless, as a potential Presidential candidate there's every fear that we're going to be hearing lots more from Newt until the voters have the good sense to send him home for good.

It's remarkable how this story has metastised. Just a few months ago a stalwart of conservative talk radio such as Laura Ingraham could essentially endorse the planned community center ("I can't find many people who really have a problem with it... I like what you're trying to do.") . How times change. But the two Americas - one cosmopolitan the other insisting upon assimilation - Ross talks about in his column really aren't in competition with one another: they complement each other.

That is, the blending of cosmopolitanism with integration is precisely what's produced the American ideal. But it's hard to see how Gingrich's determination that muslims are not equal citizens can advance any cause or produce anything worthwhile. Then again, isn't designed to is it?

*Newt also argues that “we would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor.” Hmmm. Except there is a shinto shrine just a few miles from, and on the road to, Pearl Harbor.

**I keep waiting for someone to spell out the dimensions of the necessary Mosque Exclusion Zone but sadly no-one seems to have come up with the necessary formula. Perhaps because doing so might mean you'd have to close an existing lower Manhattan mosque that, oddly, though close to the WTC site does not seem to represent the triumph of militant Islam and the creeping, feeble dhimmitude of the west...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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