Olbermann Hints Moral Equivalence Between U.S. & Islamic Empire, Blocking Mosque May Be First Step to New Holocaust

On Monday’s Countdown show, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann delivered a "Special Comment" in which he invoked Nazi Germany and suggested that blocking construction of a mosque near Ground Zero could be the first of a "thousand steps" toward another holocaust. He also hinted at a moral equivalence between the Islamic Empire’s conquests and America’s expansion into the lands of Native Americans as he attempted to discredit former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s concerns about the choice of "Cordoba House" as the original name planned for the mosque as being intentionally symbolic of a Muslim victory at Ground Zero.

After starting his "Special Comment" by quoting Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous words about the Holocaust of World War II, he at first tried to make his rant sound more moderate as he contended that, "I make no direct comparison between the attempts to suppress the building of a Muslim religious center in downtown Manhattan and the unimaginable nightmare of the Holocaust." He added: "Such a comparison is ludicrous – at least, it is now."

But the Countdown host was still alarmist enough to fear the mosque controversy could lead in that horrific direction. Olbermann: "Niemoller was not warning of the Holocaust. He was warning of the thousand steps before a holocaust became inevitable. If we are at merely the first of those steps again today, it is one step too close."

Citing Gingrich’s contention that members of the Islamic Empire historically engaged in a practice of building large mosques on the holy sites of their conquests as monuments to their victories – citing the mosque that was built in Cordoba, Spain, as an example – Olbermann at first argued that, because Cordoba was eventually recaptured by Christians, Gingrich’s concerns are somehow undermined. The MSNBC host even sounded as if he were defending the Muslim expansion into Spain as he recounted that Christians continued to fight even though Muslim conquerors built "multicultural, nondenominational institutions of learning." Olbermann:

Those Muslim conquerors are a figment of Gingrich's lurid imagination. In Spain, in Cordoba, though the Muslims established multicultural, nondenominational institutions of learning, they were under constant attack from Christian armies and from a series of internal all-Muslim civil wars. The Muslims lost Cordoba and the Christian church they transformed into the world's third largest mosque complex, that was turned back into a Christian cathedral in the 13th century, and it has been one ever since.

But moments later, Olbermann seemed to contradict himself by acknowledging that Gingrich was correct in his reasoning about the historical significance of the name "Cordoba" being provocative, as the MSNBC host gave the Muslim group credit for changing the name in response to criticism like that of the former House Speaker. Olbermann: "When the historical implications of Cordoba were made clear to the backers of this project, the property developer, Sharif Gamal, changed the name. They've already compromised."

Olbermann did not theorize about why the Muslim group was motivated to choose this provocative name in the first place.

The Countdown host also suggested a moral equivalence between America’s history of confiscating land from Native Americans and the Islamic Empire’s conquests. Olbermann: "And is there not a logical extension to Mr. Gingrich’s conclusions about Cordoba and triumphalism? Virtually every church, virtually every synagogue, every mosque built on this continent stands where a Native American lived or died or was buried or saw his world – his religions included – wiped out, by us. What are we, then, Mr. Gingrich?"

But, unlike many predominantly Muslim countries, the United States provides full citizenship rights to Native Americans, who are now even greater in number than when Christopher Columbus first visited the New World.

By contrast, not only do many countries that are successors to the Islamic Empire sharply restrict the rights of their citizens even now, but, as recently as the period between 1948 and 1975, in many predominantly Muslim nations, Jewish residents faced so much persecution in the form of violence, confiscation of property, and outright expulsion that the number of Jewish refugees who fled Muslim countries is estimated to be greater than the number of Palestinian refugees who fled Israel after the Arab states invaded the tiny nation in 1948. Some even estimate that the land confiscated from Jewish residents by governments in Muslim countries amounts to four times the total area of the state of Israel.

After recounting the story of a mosque that was bombed in Jacksonville, Florida, Olbermann also declared that Muslims in America are more likely to be targeted by terrorism than non-Muslims: "As the Jacksonville mosque bombing shows, since 9/11, Muslims have been at far greater risk of being victims of terrorism in the United States than have non-Muslims."

Below is a complete transcript of the "Special Comment" portion of the Monday, August 16, Countdown show on MSNBC, with critical portions in bold:

KEITH OLBERMANN: Finally, tonight, as promised, a "Special Comment" on the inaccurately described "Ground Zero mosque."

"They came first for the communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. And then they came for me and by that time, no one was left to speak up."

Pastor Martin Niemoller's words are well known, but their context is not well understood. Niemoller was not speaking abstractly. He witnessed persecution; he acquiesced to it. He ultimately fell victim to it. He had been a German World War I hero, then a conservative who welcomed the fall of German democracy and the rise of Hitler, and he had few qualms about the beginning of the Holocaust until he himself was arrested for supporting it insufficiently. Niemoller’s confessional warning came first in a speech in Frankfurt in January 1946 – eight months after he had been liberated by American troops. He had been detained at Tyrol, Sachsen-hausen, and Dachau for seven years.

He survived the death camps. In quoting him, I make no direct comparison between the attempts to suppress the building of a Muslim religious center in downtown Manhattan and the unimaginable nightmare of the Holocaust. Such a comparison is ludicrous – at least, it is now. But Niemoller was not warning of the Holocaust, he was warning of the willingness of a seemingly rational society to condone the gradual stoking of enmity towards an ethnic or religious group or more than one, warning of the building up of a collective pool of fear and hate, warning of the moment in which the need to purge outstrips the parameters of the original scapegoating, when new victims are needed because a country has begun to run on a horrible field of hatred – magnified, amplified and multiplied by politicians and zealots within government and without.

Niemoller was not warning of the Holocaust. He was warning of the thousand steps before a holocaust became inevitable. If we are at merely the first of those steps again today, it is one step too close. Yet in a country dedicated to freedom, forces have gathered to blow out of all proportion the construction of a minor community center to transform it into a training ground for terrorists and an insult to the victims of 9/11 and a tribute to Medieval Muslim subjugation of the West. There is no training ground for terrorists. There is no insult to the victims of 9/11. There is no tribute to Medieval Muslim subjugation of the West. There is, in fact, no "Ground Zero mosque."

It is not a mosque. A mosque, technically, is a Muslim holy place in which only worship can be conducted. What is planned for 45 Park Place, New York City, is a community center. It's supposed to include a basketball court and a culinary school. It is to be 13 stories tall, and the top two stories will be a Muslim prayer space. What a cauldron of terrorism that will be. Terrorist chefs and terrorist point guards. And truly those who will use the center have more to fear from us than us from them, for there has been terrorism connected to a mosque in this country, in this year.

May 10, Jacksonville, Florida, a pipe bomb at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida. The FBI thinks the man in this surveillance video could be the bomber. The bomb went off during evening prayers and it was powerful enough to send shrapnel flying 100 yards. Fortunately, the bomber didn't know where to place it, so the 60 Muslim worshipers were uninjured. If he had put it inside and not outside, they had been dead and you probably would have heard about it on the news. Or maybe not. Maybe those exploiting 45 Park Place would still shake their fists and decry terrorism by extremists who happen to be Muslim and never face the shameful truth about our country. As the Jacksonville mosque bombing shows, since 9/11, Muslims have been at far greater risk of being victims of terrorism in the United States than have non-Muslims.

But back to this Islamic center. Its name, "Cordoba House," is not a tribute to the Medieval Muslim subjugation of Spain. Newt Gingrich has been pushing that nonsense that Cordoba is dog whistle for triumphalism: "It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third largest mosque complex. Today, some of the mosque’s backers insist this term is being used to ‘symbolize interfaith cooperation’ when, in fact, every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest."

Those Muslim conquerors are a figment of Gingrich's lurid imagination. In Spain, in Cordoba, though the Muslims established multicultural, nondenominational institutions of learning, they were under constant attack from Christian armies and from a series of internal all-Muslim civil wars. The Muslims lost Cordoba and the Christian church they transformed into the world's third largest mosque complex, that was turned back into a Christian cathedral in the 13th century, and it has been one ever since.

And is there not a logical extension to Mr. Gingrich’s conclusions about Cordoba and triumphalism? Virtually every church, virtually every synagogue, every mosque built on this continent stands where a Native American lived or died or was buried or saw his world – his religions included – wiped out, by us. What are we, then, Mr. Gingrich? And, by the way, a point Mr. Gingrich has not even whispered as he has shouted fire in a crowded theater: When the historical implications of Cordoba were made clear to the backers of this project, the property developer, Sharif Gamal, changed the name. They've already compromised. "We are calling it Park 51 because of the backlash to the name Cordoba House," he told the Financial Times. "It will be a place open to all New Yorkers, and that is a very New York name."

A very New York name. Like Ground Zero. Except that this place, Park 51, is not even at Ground Zero. Not even right across the street. Even the description of it being two blocks away is generous. It is two blocks away from the Northeast corner of the World Trade Center site. From the planned location of the 9/11 memorial, it's more like four or five blocks, even. You know what is right across the street, though? I went there yesterday to refresh my sense of the World Trade Center, in which I worked nearly 30 years ago. At Church and Veezy Street so close that the barbed wire of Ground Zero obscures its spire is St. Paul’s Chapel. Been there since 1766, where Washington went the day he was inaugurated, where the first responders came for relief nine years ago. You know what's also closer to Ground Zero than this Muslim community center will be? Church of St. Peter, at Church and Barclay Streets. As the sign says, "New York's Oldest Catholic Parish."

People hear "Ground Zero mosque" and they think Mecca in the backyard and the loud call to prayer and they take umbrage. "We've got no more than a few inches of skin and a couple pieces of bone. Ground Zero is the burial place of my son," said Joyce Boland at the public hearing about this center. "I don't want to go there and see an overwhelming mosque looking down at me."

I honor her pain and her fear, but Mrs. Boland has nothing to worry about. Unless she walks directly over to it, several blocks away, she'll never see the thing. This is what you see from where the center will be. Another nondescript building is across the street. This building and others like it would block views of the Trade Center and views from the Trade Center. The community center certainly will stand out on the north side of Park Place, but amid the canyons of lower Manhattan, it will just be a distinctive building that, if you happen to wander down a side street near the Trade Center, you might see it. You know what you'll see there now? This. The Burlington coat factory, abandoned since 2001, when the landing gear from one of the planes fell 90 stories and went through the roof. For nine years, nobody's been willing to buy that building, just to knock it down and build a new one. It sold for $4,850,000. In New York City real estate, that is spare change. And you know why it’s spare change? Because walk around Ground Zero any day of the week and it's packed with tourists and our version of pilgrims. But walk two and three blocks away, and not so packed. Not packed at all. Empty stores, boarded up windows, nine years later, and two and three blocks from the action, it's a ghost town. What was that about government not getting in the way of private business? What was that about letting the private sector spur new jobs in blighted areas?

Oh, and what was that about Iraq? Why did we go into Iraq again? I don't mean the real versions or the naked vengeful blindness that enabled the forging of a nonexistent connection between Iraq and 9/11. I mean, the official explanation. To free the world, and especially Iraq's citizens, of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. That's its supporters' defense of the Iraq invasion to this hour. Well, who lives in Iraq? Muslims. I hate to reveal this to anybody on the right who did not know this, but when they say Iraq is 65 percent Shia and 32 percent Sunni, you do know that Shia and Sunni are both forms of the Muslim religion, right? We sacrificed 4,415 of our military personnel in Iraq to save Muslims, and there are thousands of us still here tonight to protect Muslims, but we don't want Muslims to open a combination culinary school and prayer space in Manhattan?

From the beginning of this nation, we have fought prejudice and religious intolerance and our greatest enemy, stupidity, exploited by rapacious politicians. It is only 50 years now, this month, since Americans publicly and urgently warned their countrymen not to support a presidential candidate because he was a Roman Catholic. He would bow to the will, not of the American people, but of the Pope. He would be a papist. He would be the agent of a foreign state! His name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Despite the nobility of our founding and the indefatigable efforts of all of our generations, there have always been those who would happily sacrifice our principles to ward off the latest unprecedented threat, the latest unbeatable outsiders. And once again at 45 Park Place, we are being told to sell our birthright to feed the maw of xenophobia and vengeance and mob rule. The terrorists who destroyed the buildings from which you could only see 45 Park Place as a dot on the ground wanted to force us to change our country, to become more like the ones they knew. What better way could we honor the dead of the World Trade Center than to do the terrorists' heavy lifting for them? Do you think 45 Park Place is where it ends? The moment this monstrous betrayal of our America gained the slightest traction, the next goal was unveiled. No more building permits for any mosques in this country, brayed a man from the euphemistically named American Families Association. Of course, he said, maybe the permits could be granted if the congregation, quote, "was willing to publicly renounce the Koran." They came first for the building permits.

But back to downtown. Does the name "Masjid Manhattan" mean anything to you? Let me take you, in conclusion, to 20 Warren Street, New York City. Not much to look at, not from across the street, not from up close. That open door there, that’s the only thing that distinguishes it from the rest of the grill fronts of the neighborhood. That and the yellow sign: "Entrance to Islamic center." It's in the basement. It's a Muslim house of worship, Masjid Manhattan. It lost its lease in a larger building down the street two years ago. The new facility is so small that only about 20 percent of worshipers can use it at a time. But Masjid Manhattan opened in early 1970. Four blocks away, the World Trade Center opened in December 1970. The actual place that is the real-life equivalent right now of the paranoid dream contained in the phrase "Ground Zero mosque" has been up and running since before there was a World Trade Center and for the nine years since there has been a World Trade Center. Running without controversy, would incident, without terrorism, without protest. Because this is America, damn it, and in America when somebody comes for your neighbor or his Bible or his Torah or his Atheist Manifesto or his Koran, you and I do what our fathers did and our grandmothers did and our founders did! You and I speak up! Good night and good luck.