‘The passionate embrace of shallow ideas’

When it comes to inanity of the far-right “sharia” hysteria, Newt Gingrich has positioned himself as one of the ringleaders.

Indeed, the disgraced former House Speaker hasn’t exactly been subtle, saying things like, “Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and the world as we know it.” Whether or not Gingrich knows his rhetoric is garbage is open to debate, but there can be no doubt that he’s saying ridiculous things to appeal to bigots.

Michael Gerson, a Republican columnist, is not impressed.

Who else shares this interpretation of sharia law? Well, totalitarians naturally do. Gingrich joins Iranian clerics, Taliban leaders and Salafists of various stripes in believing that the most authentic expression of sharia law is fundamentalism and despotism. […]

The governing implications of Gingrich’s views are uncharted. Would President Gingrich reaffirm his belief that the most radical form of Islamic law is the most authentic? Would he tell American Muslims that, to be good citizens, they should renounce sharia? Would he argue in his inaugural address, as he has argued before, that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization”? No strategy would be more likely to produce resentment, alienation and radicalism.

And how would President Gingrich deal with predominantly Muslim nations if the war against terrorism were transformed into a struggle against sharia? Wouldn’t every Muslim friend and ally be discredited and undermined by having a relationship with the anti-sharia superpower? Wouldn’t Islamic radicals welcome the civilizational struggle that Gingrich offers? No strategy would be more likely to undermine the cause of the United States and the safety of its people.

Agreed. Gingrich isn’t just wrong, and isn’t just praying on the ignorant fears of bigots, he’s also articulating an approach to governing that would undermine U.S. national security. Gerson sees this as part of a pattern in which the former Speaker demonstrates “the passionate embrace of shallow ideas.”

The next question is whether it’ll work politically for Gingrich anyway.

In New Hampshire last night, Gingrich hosted an event and heard from a young man who believes Islam “is trying to take over this country.” The voter ranted for a while, expressing concern that Christians’ rights need protection against Muslims. The crowd of roughly 1,000 local voters applauded.

Gingrich didn’t hesitate to pander. Ben Smith noted he “didn’t quite endorse the question, but he certainly didn’t correct it: There was no caveat that most American Muslims are good citizens, or that Constitutional rights apply to all religions. Instead Gingrich pivoted directly into a riff about the dual threats, to Christians and Jews, of Sharia law and of secularism.”

And Gingrich relied on this cheap pandering, I suspect, because it will get him votes.

Gerson is absolutely right about how offensive Gingrich’s rhetoric is, and the extent to which it undermines U.S. foreign policy. The problem is, Gingrich is in line with the know-nothing attitudes of Republican voters, and Gerson is not. The GOP base likes “the passionate embrace of shallow ideas” and tends to ignore those who counsel otherwise.