In response to my post about the Manhattan mosque controversy, a reader asked me to clarify whether the critics of the project that I mentioned—Abe Foxman, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich—have demanded government intervention to stop it or have merely urged its backers to relocate it. Foxman's organization, the Anti-Defamation League, acknowledges that "proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam." The ADL also condemns "the bigotry some have expressed in attacking them." Nevertheless, it says, "We believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found."
Palin's comments on the subject have been more ambiguous. One of her Tweets, for example, asked "Peaceful New Yorkers" to "pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real." While it's impossible to say for sure what Palin's idiosyncratic definition of refute is, probably she means something like reject. Assuming that's right, she could be suggesting political action, or she could be saying that New Yorkers should express their opposition to the project and thereby persuade its sponsors to pick a different site.
Gingrich has been clearer in calling for government action. In a recent Fox News interview, he said New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should investigate the mosque's financing, implying that the money is coming from illegal sources. He added (my emphasis):
I find it very offensive to get lectured about religious liberty at a time when there are no churches and no synagogues in Saudi Arabia and when no Christian and no Jew can walk into Mecca….I'd love to have these folks say, "Let's build a church and a synagogue in Mecca, or rather Saudi Arabia, and that would balance off our having an interfaith mosque [in lower Manhattan]." They're not saying that. It is entirely one-sided. It is entirely, I think, a kind of triumphalism that we should not tolerate.
Would those who objected when I called Palin and Gingrich "jingoistic dimwits" still like to defend the proposition that he is too smart for that label? First he equates the mosque's avowedly moderate, pluralistic, and ecumenical backers with Saudi Arabia's oppressive theocrats. Maybe the project's supporters are putting on a show, but Gingrich does not make that case. Instead he treats all Muslims as a hostile, undifferentiated collective. In any case, the notion that there can be a mosque in lower Manhattan only when there is a church or synagogue in Mecca is an absurd non sequitur. People who want to exercise their religious freedom in this country don't have to "balance off" anything. That is their right, even if people who share their religion do not extend the same guarantee when they're in charge of another country's government. Since when is a foreign state's intolerance an excuse to trample people's constitutional rights?