Newt Gingrich: a Catholic running against Islam?

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and high-profile conservative intellectual, announced today that he is officially in the running for the Republican nomination for president. Along the way he’s been playing the politics of religion.

In the speeches and media appearances he did in preparation for his run, he has emphasized two things. The first is the importance of God and morality in the public square, referencing his own conversion to Catholicism to give him credibility. The second is to rail against the dangers of Islam in America….

The irony, of course, is that many of the same slanders leveled at the Catholic Church are now leveled at Islam in America. Catholicism was considered incompatible with liberty, democracy and pluralism. Any inroads made by Catholics into the corridors of power was considered a threat to the American way of life. Catholics were considered loyal to the autocratic Pope, not the American flag. Catholic politicians would enact policies to advantage their Church and hurt American values, everything from appointing an Ambassador to the Vatican to sending public funds to parochial schools.

The “No Popery” signs of previous eras feel remarkably like the “No Sharia” signs of today. The view of the Catholic faith as inherently incompatible with American values mimics today’s view of Islam. And the hysteria about the effects of increasing Catholic influence on American culture sound precisely like today’s fears about Muslims.

Eboo Patel, Washington Post blog, 11 May 2011