Newt Gingrich has won South Carolina. In his victory speech, he lambasted the “anti-religious bigotry” consuming America from those elite cesspools, New York and Washington. I assume he means by this the rising tide of Islamophobia, and I’m so happy he’s taken such a courageous stand against all anti-religious bigotry, especially considering some of his unfortunate and no doubt now regretted remarks on Americans of the Muslim persuasion. (Note to readers: I am wallowing in sarcasm.) But all joking aside, the larger theme of Islam, public religion, and American identity isn’t too far off the mark.
Just now, The New Yorker‘s Connie Bruck posted a brief comment on Gingrich the man, as he sees himself:
Gingrich has seen himself in messianic terms for much of his adult life; one of his models has been Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, who assumed dictatorial powers to mold the country as he saw fit.
Gingrich, who is afraid a secular dictatorship is chasing religion out of America, idolizes the secular dictator who crushed public religion in Turkey, imposed one-party, authoritarian rule over the carcass of the Ottoman Empire, and ripped Turkey’s residents out of a diverse, multilayered history and into a carefully crafted Central Asian nationalism whose stated goal was, oddly enough, to get Turkey accepted into the same Europe Gingrich so frequently derides.
Today, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party represents the return of religious Turks to the country’s power structures; recently, Governor Perry, who called Turkey’s elected leaders — our NATO allies — “Islamic terrorists,” suggesting there is a deep Republican love for Ataturk, not because he championed secularism (what Ataturk’s generally known for), but because he restricted the practice of Islam. If Gingrich wants to save America from secularism, why is his hero a militantly secular founder of a European one-party state?
In his victory speech tonight, Gingrich presented two Americas. His was the America of the Founding Fathers, and Obama’s was the America of socialist radicalism. But Ataturk didn’t represent tradition. He represented a violent, sudden, and power-hungry break from the past; Gingrich makes much of his status as an historian, a claim many deride or dismiss. But perhaps he does know what he’s talking about, and in his historical references he reveals much more than he intends to. He’s not a traditional conservative. He, like his hero, is the radical, claiming legitimacy in a murky past.
For as much as the Republican party likes to claim continuity with the distant past, it doth protest too much.