NEW YORK — Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday announced his opposition to a planned mosque near ground zero, becoming the latest Republican leader to place the project on the national political stage.
In a statement posted on his website, Gingrich, a potential 2012 presidential contender, said flatly, "No mosque." And he criticized Muslim leaders for suggesting the mosque's opponents are religiously intolerant.
"The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over," Gingrich wrote. "The proposed 'Cordoba House' overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3,000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks – is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites."
The mosque, which would be located two blocks from the lower Manhattan site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, is a project of the nonprofit Cordoba Initiative, which says it promotes cross-cultural understanding between Islam and the West. Cordoba purchased the property for $4 million and plans to build a 13-story, $100 million Islamic center, of which the mosque would be a part.
A community board voted overwhelmingly last spring to back the project even as it drew emotional opposition from some local residents and relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Opponents of the mosque are appealing their case to the city's landmarks commission, hoping it will give historic designation to the building currently occupying the mosque site, thus complicating the project's construction.
Disagreement over the mosque had, until recently, drawn political attention only from local officials. Republican-turned-independent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the mosque's construction, as does Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for governor. Cuomo's GOP opponent, Rick Lazio, opposes the project, as does Rep. Peter King, of Long Island, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee.
The political dispute over the mosque went national last Sunday, when Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, announced her opposition to it via Twitter.
"Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate," Palin wrote, drawing ridicule for using the apparently invented word refudiate.
She rewrote her post later, calling on "peace-seeking Muslims" to reject the mosque in the interest of national healing. "UNNECESSARY provocation," she wrote of the mosque.
Palin's comments drew a stern rebuke from Bloomberg, who has called efforts to derail the mosque un-American.
"Sarah Palin has a right to her opinions, but I could not disagree more," Bloomberg said. "Everything the United States stands for, New York stands for, is tolerance and openness."
Palin hit back with a post on her Facebook page, saying her opposition to the mosque had nothing to do with tolerance. "It's just common decency," she wrote.