The very ugly controversy over the planned Islamic center — not at Ground Zero, mind you, and not even within eyeshot — has managed to make fools or knaves out of some pretty smart people. Some of them have embarked on a fruitless hunt for the perfect analogy. The winner, as you might have imagined, goes to that evil cherub Newt Gingrich, formerly of Georgia but now of any meeting hall with a spotlight. He said approving the mosque “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust museum.”
Gingrich keeps trying. Earlier he had argued that since there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia, “there should be no mosque near Ground Zero.” But the mosque is not Saudi Arabian; it is Islamic, a distinction not all that hard to keep in mind. The comparison to a Nazi sign at the Holocaust museum is equally specious. Every Nazi was dedicated to the persecution and/or murder of all Jews. This is not the case with Islam and the attack on the World Trade Center. That attack was conducted by a handful of fanatics, not an entire religion.
Saletan debunks a few myths, including this one:
5. Terrorists will see the mosque as a triumph. This objection, a Gingrich favorite, has now been taken up [Debra Burlingame, the co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America]. She says of the mosque:
“Those who continue to target and kill American civilians and U.S. troops will see it as a symbol of their historic progress at the site of their most bloody victory. Demolishing a building that was damaged by wreckage from one of the hijacked planes in order to build a mosque and Islamic Center will further energize those who regard it as a ratification of their violent and divinely ordered mission: the spread of shariah law. …”
This is another derivative and dangerous argument. On this view, the nature of the Islamic center and the motives of its sponsors don’t matter. Nor do the perceptions of ordinary Muslims around the world. What matters is al-Qaida’s perception. If al-Qaida thinks it’s a statement of conquest, we should oppose it. In this way, we make ourselves al-Qaida’s slaves.