Gingrich’s full statement (via Chait) is even more ludicrous than the initial reports made it sound. Gingrich begins:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.

Is New York in any way comparable to Saudi Arabia? To ask the question is to acknowledge that the two have nothing in common. Later Gingrich complains that non-Muslims cannot enter Mecca, as if the site of the World Trade Center and Mecca are in some way analogous, but since when do we in the U.S. argue that we should treat religious minorities only as well as religious minorities are treated in the most repressive countries? If we took this seriously and applied it thoroughly, not only would there be no mosque permitted in that part of lower Manhattan, but there would not be one permitted anywhere in the United States.

Naturally, Gingrich isn’t so far gone as to call for that, so he simply insists that it not be permitted in this location, which confirms that the random inclusion of Saudi Arabia in the debate is simply designed to score points and inflame passions rather than provide support for an argument. From what we know of the promoters behind this project, Saudis have little or nothing to do with it, but Gingrich is hoping to conflate anyone involved with this project with Saudis. He is relying on his audience to remember that most of the hijackers were Saudis, to generalize from those 15 Saudis to all Saudis, and to identify all Muslims with the most extreme adherents of the most extreme forms of Islam. The purpose of this is not to resist “an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization,” because our civilization is in no danger of being destroyed by any such offensive, but to rile up people here and convince them that all Muslims are out to get them, which will in turn make them more receptive to the agenda of growing the security and warfare state that Gingrich et al. favor.

Gingrich complains that the original name of the building, Cordoba House, is itself an insult. References to Cordoba can mean many things. For Western ecumenists, Ummayad Cordoba represented a high-point of convivencia and therefore served as a model of multi-religious co-existence. What is usually not mentioned is how the cultural and intellectual life there stagnated later under the Almoravids and Almohads, nor do many remember the Mozarabic Christian martyrs of the early centuries of Islamic rule in Spain, and Gingrich doesn’t mention any of this, either. Then again, Gingrich is not really interested here in historical accuracy or understanding. Cordoba has also represented for Arab nationalists one of the high points of Arab culture, and for pan-Islamists it represented one of the most far-flung parts of the briefly-united caliphate, and it is only this latter meaning that Gingrich chooses to give to the name of the organization and the building project. Gingrich simply assumes bad faith on the part of the promoters, and that determines the entirety of his argument.

What may be most striking in Gingrich’s statement is his claim that “they” (i.e., Muslims) are lecturing “us” about tolerance, but what is happening is that “we” are being held to “our” own standards. Perhaps the most irritating thing about the arguments Gingrich and Palin are making is that they do not want to critique the idea of religious tolerance, but they don’t want to face up to what it might mean in practice.