(Photo: AP Images / Swoan Parker)
Newt Gingrich offers a “provocative” argument about the proposed Ground Zero mosque and Saudi Arabia’s church policy, but it has “no leverage,” said a religious freedom expert.
Islam, unlike the Roman Catholic Church that has a pope, is very decentralized, pointed out Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, to The Christian Post on Monday.
Moreover, there is no clear evidence linking the group behind the proposed $100 million Cordoba House to Saudi Arabia.
“It’s a provocative point without any leverage because the people who are building the mosque, as far as I understand it, don’t really have any leverage with the draconian policies of the Saudi government,’” said Cromartie, a former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Newt Gingrich, a Republican former Speaker of the House, wrote on his blog last week that there should be no mosque near Ground Zero if there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.
The term Cordoba, Gingrich stressed, refers to Cordoba, Spain, “the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.”
Gingrich is skeptical of the Cordoba Initiative’s claim that the Cordoba House near Ground Zero would “symbolize interfaith cooperation,” and believes that Cordoba is a symbol of Islamic conquest.
“Those Islamists and their apologists who argue for ‘religious toleration’ are arrogantly dishonest. They ignore the fact that more than 100 mosques already exist in New York City. Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia,” Gingrich wrote. “And they lecture us about tolerance.”
The outspoken and often-times controversial politician challenges the people behind the Cordoba House, if they are serious about religious tolerance, to ask the Saudis and other Muslims to allow everyone to enter Mecca and allow non-Muslim houses of worship in the Kingdom.
Cromartie, however, said the Ground Zero mosque issue is more about “taste” than religious freedom, which allows people to build houses of worship wherever they want.
“While Newt is at it, why doesn’t he say, ‘We will build it (the mosque) as soon as Sudan starts doing the following,’” said the religious freedom and policy expert. “Newt’s point is a good, provocative soundbite, but I suspect the people who are building the mosque have no leverage with the Saudi government.”
Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Religion & the Media programs at EPPC, thinks the Ground Zero mosque is a local issue that should be decided by the people of New York City.
Gingrich, meanwhile, noted, “We have not been able to rebuild the World Trade Center in nine years. Now we are being told a 13 story, $100 million megamosque will be built within a year overlooking the site of the most devastating surprise attack in American history.”
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said while he does not agree with allowing a mosque to be built near Ground Zero, he also does not agree with Gingrich’s argument.
“We shouldn’t be engaging in a tit-for-tat argument with the Saudis,” said Land on Monday to The Christian Post. “We should be exposing the inferior nature of their position by promoting and practicing freedom.”
Muslims have a right to build mosques in New York City and at appropriate commuting distances, Land said. But building a mosque near Ground Zero would be like building a Shinto Shrine next to the USS Arizona, the battleship sunk by the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 1,177 people, said Land.
Although not all Muslims supported the 9/11 attacks nor did all Japanese support the Pearl Harbor attack, it still would be “inappropriate” to build a mosque or shrine near those sites.
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is currently debating whether to designate the building at the proposed mosque site a landmark. If it is granted landmark status, then the Cordoba Initiative cannot raze the building to build the Muslim cultural center. However, they can build on top of the existing building if they receive permission. The commission is expected to vote in August on the landmark status of the building at 45-47 Park Place.
The Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement own the property at 45-47 Park Place. They have been using the building for prayer meetings.