The “Ground Zero Mosque” – The “Cordoba” Question
By David Stein
(Córdoba was the capital of the Spanish Muslim dynasty - The furthest West that Islam has expanded. If the Ground Zero Mosque is built it will signal a new victory for the Muslim religion at the heart of the America. For this reason alone the Cordoba Mosque should not be built or any Mosque with the name Cordoba!)
NEW YORK (YBH) – Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam at the center of the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, is the founder and chairman of an organization called Cordoba Initiative. His initial name for the mosque in question was Cordoba House. And it is that name – Cordoba – that has become a Rorschach test for the mosque’s critics and defenders. In that one word, they either see the reason that the mosque should be built, or the reason that it shouldn’t.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
How can the same word be used as evidence to support two polar opposite conclusions? To find the answer, let’s begin by letting Imam Rauf explain why he chose that name:
After the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain, and its name reminds us that Muslims created what was, in its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth. Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago. (From the Cordoba Initiative website, and from Imam Rauf’s 2004 book, “What’s Right With Islam”)
Newt Gingrich doesn’t buy that for a second:
Most of them (the mosque’s supporters) don’t understand that “Cordoba House” is a deliberately insulting term. 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.
In critiquing Gingrich’s comments, the progressive Christian website Faith Forward sees it totally differently:
Gingrich chooses to see Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest of Christians. He misses another opportunity for interpretation – of a time where a nation under Islamic rule emphasized interfaith collaboration and rights and freedoms for people of all faiths. In light of this we can see the reason the founders of Cordoba House/Park51 chose this name for a community center that will be for all – an Islamic institution with gifts and resources and inclusion for a wider community. By rejecting the possibility of a spirit of Cordoba in the heart of New York City –and blocks from Ground Zero – Gingrich rejects the possibility of interfaith engagement as a path forward. Despite what Mr. Ginrich feels, Cordoba is recognized as a symbol of a time when Islam and other faiths were able to flourish side by side, learn from each other and coexist.
But don’t tell that to The New Republic’s Martin Peretz:
Have you wondered, as I have, why this project is called the Cordoba Initiative? Well, the city was conquered in 1148 by a Muslim dynasty, the Almohades, who offered the Jews a rich choice: conversion to Islam, death or exile. The family of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides was born in Cordoba and Moses ben Maimon spent his childhood there. Until, that is, the Muslims arrived. When given their options, they left. Which is what most of the Jews did then. And there started the long journey of exile from Spain until 1492 when nobody was left.
Christopher Hitchens, no fan of the mosque, takes the mosque’s critics to task for casting the Cordoba name in a negative light. After stating, “I don’t like anything much about the Cordoba Initiative or the people who run it,” Hitchens continues:
I notice that even the choice of the name Cordoba has offended some Christian opponents of the scheme. This wonderful city in Andalusia, after the Muslim conquest of southern Spain, was indeed one of the centres of the lost Islamic caliphate that today’s jihadists have sworn in blood to restore. And after the Catholic reconquista, it was also one of the places purged of all Arab and Jewish influence by the founders of the Inquisition. But in the interval between these two imperialisms it was also the site of an astonishing cultural synthesis, best associated with the names of Averroes ibn-Rushd and Moses Maimonides. Here was a flourishing of philosophy and medicine and architecture that saw the recovery of the works of Aristotle.
Confused? Let’s sort things out. In the tenth century, Cordoba was indeed a prosperous, diverse, Muslim-occupied city. Muslim rule was so laid-back that the Christians started to get the crazy idea that they might actually be able to reclaim their homeland. In the eleventh century, as pockets of Christian resistance to Muslim occupation began to grow, the Muslim rulers of Spain panicked and brought in a North African Berber tribe called the Almoravids to crush the resistance. The Almoravids ended up seizing power for themselves, until they were eventually supplanted by another Berber tribe, the Almohads.
The Almoravids and the Almohads were brutal and repressive, bringing a reign of terror down on Christians, and forcing Jews to convert or flee.
Yes, supporters of the mosque are correct: Cordoba was an enlightened, tolerant place by the standards of the time (in the tenth century). And yes, critics of the mosque are correct: it was a barbarous, intolerant place (in the eleventh century).
On facts, the only one who blows it is Martin Peretz, by writing “The family of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides was born in Cordoba and Moses ben Maimon spent his childhood there. Until, that is, the Muslims arrived.” This is a grievous assault on the truth. When Maimonides was born, Cordoba had already long been under Muslim rule. Maimonides studied the Torah openly and freely with his father. When he was thirteen, the repressive fundamentalists took over, and he and his family fled. How Mr. Peretz could make such a grave error is unclear; one would think he’d have fact-checkers at the NR.
But just because Mr. Peretz blew it doesn’t mean the mosque’s supporters come out on top. There are several aspects of Imam Rauf’s use of “Cordoba” that should be examined.
To begin with, the occupying Muslims in the tenth century might have been relatively benign, but they were still occupiers. Cordoba was a city in which the native Christians had been conquered by Muslims and robbed of control of their homeland. Benign or not, it was still an occupation, a conquest. Cordoba is therefore a loaded name for a mosque that even the Associated Press admits was intentionally placed close to Ground Zero.
Moreover, Rauf’s belief that the Islamic Cordoba era should be celebrated is an odd position for a Muslim activist to take, because he’s essentially stating that there is and can be such a thing as a “good occupation,” just as long as the occupiers are more advanced, enlightened, and tolerant than the people they’ve conquered.
So does that apply to Israel? Should the more advanced and tolerant Israelis be allowed full control of East Jerusalem and Gaza, because the Jews’ advocacy of women’s rights, democracy, and religious freedom makes them superior to the Muslims? What about Afghanistan, right now a country controlled by corrupt warlords and fanatical fundamentalists? Should we occupy that country permanently because we’re more advanced and tolerant?
And therein lies Imam Rauf’s hypocrisy. This man refuses to condemn Hamas – a terrorist organization that has vowed to destroy Israel because (in their view) the Jews are “occupiers” – yet he celebrates Muslim occupation of Christian lands…and he expects us to celebrate along with him.
However, I believe Imam Rauf’s “hypocrisy” has a purpose, and I think many of his critics have missed it. Remember – this is a man who has been feted by three White Houses (including the Bush White House). By using Cordoba as his brand, he can appeal to U.S. political leaders and radical Islamists at the same time. The Cordoba name conjures up images of tolerance and plurality and savagery and persecution, depending upon which century you focus on. It was meant to be a Rorschach test.
To denounce Rauf as an “extremist” is to miss the point. He is an opportunist, reaping the fruits of presidential dinners, White House engagements, and U.S.-sponsored trips abroad, while retaining enough “street cred” to avail himself of the funding opportunities that come from radical Islam (hence his refusal to condemn Hamas – to do so would completely kill his cred).
And, frankly, Rauf was doing quite well walking the tightrope between the mainstream and the radicals, until he overextended himself with the Ground Zero Mosque idea, because now he’s stuck in a position that will eventually kill one-half of his game.
If he surrenders and moves the mosque, he’ll be seen as doing the one thing the extremists can’t abide – kow-towing to the West. Yet if he persists in moving forward with the mosque, the backlash against him among Americans will grow with each new girder that rises from the construction site (and if Republicans regain Congress and, in two years, the presidency, that means no more White House dinners and government-sponsored trips).