Here’s a piece I wrote for a recent Cato intern op-ed writing contest:
“You are either with us or with the terrorists,” uttered President Bush in a Congressional address in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, offering the most infamous political false choice of the last decade. Although this implied ultimatum was aimed at other nations, in the ensuing public discourse it turned into a rhetorical cudgel with which pro-war politicians and pundits beat anyone who dared question the neo-conservative conventional wisdom on national security policy.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, an influential advisor to the Bush administration, was a particularly loud voice in the post-9/11 neoconservative noise machine, writing columns with titles like “Strike Sooner Than Later”. It’s ironic, then, that Gingrich and other prominently hawkish conservatives recently seem to be doing all they can to further Osama Bin Laden’s war against the West.
Gingrich recently penned an essay explaining his opposition to the construction of a mosque a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City. Gingrich writes, “There should be no mosque 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.”
Put aside for a moment the troubling fact that one of the leading voices of modern conservatism believes that the United States should forsake its proud tradition of religious tolerance and instead mimic Saudi Arabia, a nation that is notorious for its oppressive Islamic monarchy. What is most alarming about the recent spate of conservative Muslim bashing is that it plays right into the narrative that Bin Laden and other Taliban leaders have constructed.
In a speech several months after 9/11, Bin Laden declared, “It has become clear that the West in general and America in particular have an unspeakable hatred for Islam.” Just last June, Bin Laden updated his message for the Obama presidency by claiming, “Obama has walked like his predecessors in increasing hostility towards Muslims.”
It was ridiculous when President Bush tried to explain the motivation behind the 9/11 attacks as stemming from the fact that “they hate our freedom.” People don’t blow themselves up in the name of opposing freedom. To be driven to such extreme actions, someone must feel deeply threatened. It is obvious, then, why Bin Laden is attempting to frame the conflict between radical Islamic terrorist groups and the democratic West as a religious war. The best way to increase Taliban support among Muslims is to show not that the United States and its allies are modern and free, but rather that they stand against Islam itself.
A significant obstacle to Bin Laden’s narrative is the central role that religious tolerance plays in America’s heritage. It is difficult to understand how the United States could be conceived of as hostile to Muslims as a people when the first line in the Bill of Rights says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Fortunately for Bin Laden, Gingrich, Sarah Palin, New York Congressman Peter King, the staff of the Weekly Standard, and others have been doing all they can to undermine this foundational American principle and provide the anti-Muslim fodder that Bin Laden needs to further his cause. In a follow up to his original essay against the Ground Zero mosque, Gingrich wrote, “One of our biggest mistakes in the aftermath of 9/11 was naming our response to the attacks ‘the war on terror’ instead of accurately identifying radical Islamists (and the underlying ideology of radical Islamism) as the target of our campaign.”
This statement is not only repugnant to anyone who cares about the values upon which the United States was founded; it also threatens American national security in a direct and obvious way. As Bin Laden tries to frame the conflict between backward terrorists and western democracy as a war of Islam versus anti-Muslim infidels, a significant faction of the American Right is actively helping him. If the War on Terror really demands a choice between standing with America or with the terrorists, then Gingrich and his ideological allies need to think long and hard about which side they’re fighting for.