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Entries in Newt Gingrich (2)


US Politics & Religion: A Way Forward on and beyond the Islamic Cultural Centre (Ezell)

Darrell Ezell, who recently completed his Ph.D. on US foreign policy and inter-faith dialogue, writes for EA:

Over the summer, protestors listing a series of emotional grievances have attempted to halt the building of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s 13-story complex, The Cordoba House at Park 51, 2 1/2 blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. These grievances include the timing of theCordoba Initiative, coming almost nine years after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the site of the cultural centre, and claims of forced assimilation with Islam and Muslims in Lower Manhattan.

If you are watching this debate from abroad, you may ask: is America really ready to move forward in peacemaking and reconciliation with the religion of Islam? In this case, doing so will require firm public support from Washington and moderate Islamic voices within America.

New York’s Proposed Islamic Cultural Center: Information & Comment (Olbermann)
New York’s Proposed Islamic Cultural Center: The Daily Show’s Investigation

Speaking last Friday at the White House’s annual Iftar dinner to commemorate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, President Barack Obama cited religious freedom and the need to support moderate conceptions of Islam within America. He affirmed:

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.  This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure.

Anchoring this argument in the US Establishment Clause in his short address, the President set a new tone in the chaotic debate. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution, crafted by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” To prohibit Muslims from gathering within the public sphere or on private property would be akin to setting the nation back a half-century or more to an era marked by Jim Crow and legal segregation.

However, moving in this unjust direction is being lauded by anti-Islamic organisations such as Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) and Pam Geller and Robert Spencer’s Freedom Defense Initiative (FDI).  With emotions boiling over throughout America, a sensible conversation as to why exactly the Cordoba House is pertinent to peacemaking is being shrouded by misinformation and xenophobic rhetoric.

Take, for instance, the recent interview with New York gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, and the director for the Center of Islamic Pluralism, Stephen Schwartz, with MSNBC’s Chris Jansing. Neither Paladino nor Schwartz were able to articulate a logical position for their opposition to Park 51. Schwartz admitted the current furour is insensitive to some Muslims, as well as the victims of 9/11. But what he failed to realise is that reconciliation is --- or should be --- a part of America’s post-9/11 healing-process and that the time is always right to explore it.


Currently, a xenophobic strand in American society is making headway by capitalising on an opportunity to promote subtle forms of religious and racial difference, scoring political points with some voters before the autumn elections. FDI and SIOA have begun planning  a joint  protest on 11 September outside Park 51.  Headlining the rally will be conservative blogger, Andrew Brietbart,  former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Dutch  parliamentarian Geert Wilders.

With an anti-Islamic movement gaining ground, led by ambivalence,  cheap shots, and even slander of Muslim audiences,  it is vital that Washington steps out front to present continued, firm public support for moderate Islamic organisations in America which are sincere about preventing the spread of radicalism.

Fareed Zakaria writes, “Ever since 9/11, liberals and conservatives have agreed that the lasting solution to the problem of Islamic terror is to prevail in the battle of ideas and to discredit radical Islam, the ideology that motivates young men to kill and be killed. Victory in the war on terror will be won when a moderate, mainstream version of Islam—one that is compatible with modernity—fully triumphs over the world view of Osama bin Laden.”  To assure that this radical Islam is discredited within a context that does not offend the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, US officials must take seriously inter-religious cooperation and socio-political discourse to engage moderates. Washington should consider the following:

  • Establishing a national bi-partisan interfaith commission (comprised of religious and political leadership) to address domestic issues related to religious freedom;

  • Allowing this commission to pursue a peacemaking and reconciliation agenda aimed at supporting moderate organizations and voices in America;

  • Ensuring that feed-back loops are created to garner community-wide support and trusted relations with moderates; and

  • Engaging moderate Muslims from the centre, rather than relying on indirect methods as public diplomacy to reach them.

As Washington considers its next move, its imperative that concerned liberals and progressive conservatives consider the value of applying post-secular approaches to combat both radical Islamic and xenophobic extremism in America. "Post-secular" acknowledges that America has entered an era where widespread religious issues are presenting new challenges to US domestic and foreign relations. The approaches includes interfaith dialogue, sensitivity training, religious-political analysis, and sacred-secular engagement to handle America’s new set of concerns.

US v. Britain: History, Education, and "Big Ideas" in Politics (Haddigan) 

Lee Haddigan writes for EA:

For me, one of the fascinations of US politics is the nation’s continual fight over the same issues using the same arguments. Contemporary disputes are fought on the ground of precedent and tradition, example and intent dating back 50, 100, 150, and, ultimately, the 221 years since the ratification of the Constitution. No other country pays as much attention to the relevance of historical events to current affairs than the United States.

And, contrary to some opinion in Europe, America’s reliance on the past as a guide to the future is not a smokescreen for hiding the country’s overriding preoccupation with material interests. The United States, unlike European nations, still believes that political differences rest on contrasting fundamental assumptions about the philosophical justifications for the ways an individual is governed. Thomas Paine wrote, as America sought independence from Britain, that "government is a necessary evil". That sentiment may have died out in Europe, bit it animates debate in the US.

Take, for instance, the contentious subject of education. In America, discussion nearly always reverts to the principle of who has the right --- the federal government or parents --- to provide for the instruction of the young. An argument is brewing right now over the proposed introduction in each state of a standardised curriculum designed by Washington.

Opponents of the reform question the measure on many fronts, but the foundation of their disquiet with the policy is the claimed opportunity for the federal government to "indoctrinate" pupils against the wishes of local communities. Parents, it is argued, have the right to decide what their children learn in school, with the tradition in the US that schools are paid for by local property taxes and controlled by locally-elected school boards. One of the Tea Party’s policies for returning America to its vision of a limited government is to eliminate the Federal Department of Education, leaving education completely in the hands of local elected officials.

The right of the State Government in deciding how the young receive their instruction underlies all debates on the issue. The recent "Textbook Wars" in Texas, where state administrators acrimoniously debated in an open forum the correct teaching material, was a bewildering spectacle for many in Europe.

In Britain, the choice of what is taught in classrooms is left to an unelected bureaucracy in the Government and, except for a few brave souls, any deviation from that assumption is regarded as heretical delusion. The State takes almost complete control of the curriculum and the standards that assess student achievement. No mainstream party, or political persuasion, opposes on principle the right of the Government to dictate how and what students are taught. This leads in Britain to incredulity that greets the news that Creationism is taught in some classes in America and included in the curriculum because parents want it there.

Last week I discovered that a judge in Virginia is allowing the state’s legal challenge to Obama’s healthcare legislation because it raises constitutional concerns about the legitimate scope of the Commerce Clause (unless you are forced to do so, never --- trust me --- try to understand the Commerce Clause). One newsletter in my in-box proclaimed Virginia as having no case, citing numerous constitutional experts; another argued that the state had an ironclad argument, quoting (you guessed it) several experts on the dreaded Commerce Clause.

I also learned that conservatives are questioning the "equal protection", under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, of so-called "Anchor Babies". These are children who are granted citizenship in the United States because they are born here, even if the parents are illegal immigrants. Some websites agreed with the contention that not all babies born in the United States are entitled to equal protection of the laws; inevitably, some opposed this view. But both, side justified their opposing opinions with the extensive use of quotations from individuals involved in the decision to ratify the 14th Amendment in 1868.

I found out that some Tea Party organizations are calling for repeal of the 17th Amendment. This change to the Constitution (1913) allowed citizens to directly elect senators to Congress, replacing the tradition of state legislatures deciding who represented voters’ interests in the upper house in Washington. More a philosophical dispute over the power of the majority in a democracy than a strictly constitutional matter, this debate was accompanied by discussion of the intent of the authors of the Federalist Papers, written in the late 18th century, against the "progressive" impulse that led to the passing of the Amendment.

And then I was informed by Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, that my help was needed to stop Democrats from using the forthcoming session of Congress to pass controversial liberal legislation. Gingrich did not refer the reader to recent examples; instead, he directed attention to the Federalists passing the Judiciary Act in 1800 to handicap the incoming administration of Thomas Jefferson.

The United States still, and almost unconsciously, centres political debates around ideas, big Ideas about democracy that involve the "rights" of the people and the "responsibility" of the individual and that rely on explanations of the nation’s past to supply their context. I received more political discussion based on historical concerns this morning than I would get from watching the BBC for a year.

When I explain to friends in Britain that I study American history they generally reply along the lines of "Why? They don’t have any history." And when I was studying in the US, the usual response of American friends was, "Why? When you have so much more history to appreciate over there."

In Britain, history is an antiquarian pursuit that does not affect contemporary affairs. We have old buildings, a Queen, some quaint social traditions, a venerable if ineffective State religion, and more old buildings.

Last year, the Conservative member of Parliament David Davies resigned his seat in protest at the Labour Government’s encroachments on Britain’s traditional liberties, including the right of habeas corpus, the cornerstone of legal rights of British (and American) citizens. For his principled and legitimate stand, he became a laughingstock in the British media, criticised for wasting the time and money of his constituents who faced the "ordeal" of having to stage another election for the now vacant seat. (Davies stood for election again on the principles over which he resigned. He won, but with the result raising barely a murmur in news reports.)

The parlous condition of politics as a philosophy in Britain is indicated by the fact that the last two books of worth, "The Case for Conservatism" by Quentin Hogg, and George Orwell’s "1984", were published in 1947 and 1948 respectively. Ironically, 1948 also saw the publication of Richard Weaver’s "Ideas Have Consequences" in the US. It was a book that helped to introduce to intellectuals in America the importance of ideas in political change, at the same time that Britain, unknowingly, ended its proud contribution to the tradition of political theory.

In America, history and political philosophy are still a vibrant part of political discussion vital to how --- for those who are interested --- an individual chooses a position on the validity of universal healthcare, welfare, electoral reform, taxation, and all the issues that appear again and again as the subject of political contention.

Whether that is an admirable trait in America’s enduring attempt to determine how to construct a virtuous society is debatable. Race and religion, for instance, still influence American politics in ways that many find perplexing. And the role of a partisan media in provoking dissension, especially to those who see the "neutral" standards of the BBC as the correct way to present the news, also disturbs many.

But for good or ill, history, or more accurately the individual American’s conceptions of the past, determines the content of contemporary US politics in ways that other countries have discarded. As a result, that American politics possesses a depth of philosophical argument about the role of the government in our lives that Europeans, for all their dismissals of the shallowness of opinion in the US, would do well to learn from.