Gingrich and Bolton Back Away From the New Islamophobes

One interesting nugget from Josh Nathan-Kazis’s Forward article on the various Sept. 11 events going on at Ground Zero:

In addition to Wilders, the rally [led by Pamela Geller] will feature a videotaped address by John Bolton, ambassador to the United Nations during the second Bush administration, and speeches by Republican political candidates and by a conservative radio host. Former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich was previously listed as a speaker, but he is not attending. A spokesman for Gingrich said that he had never intended to attend, and that the listing was based on a misunderstanding.

While it’s impossible to know the actual story, it sure sounds like Gingrich decided that associating himself with the likes of Geller and Geerts Wilders was not a sound political strategy for a 2012 presidential hopeful. Similarly, it’s notable that even John Bolton — who is about as far right as any high-profile U.S. political figure, and who wrote the forward to Geller and Robert Spencer’s latest book — is declining to appear in person. Perhaps Gingrich and Bolton calculated that there is a not-insignificant chance that Geller’s Muslim hatefest will end in some kind of “incident” — see the near-miss at last week’s Ground Zero rally for an idea of what this would look like — in which case participation at the rally would become politically toxic for whoever was involved.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, one of the most important stories about the whole controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is the extent to which prominent Republican political figures, most notably Gingrich, have mainstreamed a virulently Islamophobic discourse that was once limited to the right-wing fringes. Does Gingrich’s pulling out of the Geller rally mean that he has reconsidered the wisdom of trying to carve out a niche for himself as America’s most prominent Islamophobe? It would be premature to say so for sure, but keep an eye on Gingrich and other prominent Republican opinion-makers in the months to come.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.


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