Defending the Cordoba Mosque

Over in New York, an argument is blazing over the Cordoba Initiative, an Islamic cultural and community centre planned for downtown New York.  Shrill critics have labelled it the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ and called for the project to be cancelled, due to it offending the sensibilities of the families of 9/11 victims.  However, a calmer look at the proposed centre reveals although it is in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre site, its hardly on top of it.  Other mosques exist in the downtown area, and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the project, has been praised for his interfaith work.

This controversy has clearly been manufactured by those who seek to polarise American political debate.  It is depressing and astonishing that the arguments against the centre have gained any traction at all.  One might expect this in Europe, with its muddled and inconsistent relationship with secular ideals.  Or in theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran, with their blanket intolerance of other faiths.  But for a country which explicitly enshrines human rights such as free expression and freedom of religion in its constitution, it is bizarre that the debate has advanced so far.  Most ironic is that the Anti-Defamation League, an organisation set-up specifically to combat religious prejudice and anti-semitism, has led the calls for the plans to be scrapped.  Their statement prioritises public outrage and ‘offence’ over freedom of expression, assembly, and religion – A dubious position indeed.

Thankfully, the principles of tolerance appear to be waxing.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently gave a fantastic speech where he reaffirmed the principles upon which the United States was founded.  As a Jewish New Yorker, his words have a certain ‘rhetorical authority’ (as David Foster Wallace would call it).  Let’s hope this argument becomes another ‘teaching moment’, a step away from the global war that Osama Bin Laden sought to provoke when he planned the September 11 attacks.

“The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Update

Daily Dish has some great commentary.

13 thoughts on “Defending the Cordoba Mosque

  1. Where is the Avenue of the Americas? But everyone knows 5th Avenue. Name it the ground zero mosque if you want; I call it The Pigheaded Cathedral, a monument to islamic stupidity. Mohamed Atta was a capable man, but the poor schmuck never had a chance. Instead of being schooled and allowed to choose a profession, with other moslem youths, his people raised him to be expendable ammunition. Instead of living a full life, a credit to his country and the world, he died at 33, while destroying 2 buildings in a sneak attack. It is now The Pigheaded Cathedral, a monument to the islamic educational system.

  2. I think the Cordoba Cultural centre is the exact opposite of pigheadedness. Whereas Atta and his cronies perpetrated a destructive and divisive act of terror, everything about the Cordoba project is constructive and conciliatory. Bin Laden and Atta would have hated such a multicultural project. It is bizarre that those Americans who oppose the mosque do not see this, and instead play right into the terrorists hands, by forgetting their own constitution and values.

  3. Indeed it is, Leo. The Cordoba in Spain was a cultural centre of Islam a few hundred years ago, I think, so still has significance for the faith today.

    In any case, naming things after places in other countries is hardly odd. New York itself was named after a city in England.

  4. “However, a calmer look at the proposed centre reveals although it is in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre site, its hardly on top of it. ”

    The engine from the second plane landed further away and the landing gear hit the proposed site.

  5. There is a big difference, Robert, between pairs York – New York, or Boston. MA – Boston in the English county of Lincolnshire from one side and Cordoba Center in NYC vs. Cordoba, Spain. People named their residence in new continent after their places in UK – this is understandable. The latter is a Spain city for many centures, why imam Feisal Abdul Rauf suddenly came out with this iniative with name Cordoba? Why not Mekka-Center, or Kair, or Kabul? The imam was born in Kuwait, as wiki said, the state more or less friendly to US. Why not name the Center after the capital or Kuwait, or native imam’s citty?

  6. Leo – are you implying that picking Cordoba as a name is some kind of provocation? This has been a Newt Gingrich talking point over the past few weeks. He seeks to spread the idea that Cordoba in Spain is symbolic of Islamic imperialism and domination over Christendom. However, this has been shown to be utter bunkum, and Newt knows very little European history. If anything, the name Cordoba Is symbolic of Islamic integration with other cultures and faiths (something that – famously -Christianity failed to achieve in the same historical period).

    In the context of the New York initiative in Lower Manhattan, it’s clear that the choice of the ne Cordoba, if it has any significance at all, is symbolic of multiculturalism and an enlightened Islam. A conciliatory choice… however much Gingrich and his cronies might try to spin otherwise.

  7. I propose to ignore statements claiming something without explanation and political statements. I look at your, Robert, words in the rest of the post: “the name Cordoba Is symbolic of Islamic integration with other cultures and faiths”. Let’s think about that for a minute. For me Cordoba for years, many years sounded as a symbol of “Muslim Conquest of Hispania” and about 10 years ago i understood that it is a more or less modern Spain city that “housed a beautiful mosque and a church in the same building, adjacent to a synagogue”. Your words, Robert about “Islamic integration with other cultures and faiths” are very pleasant to hear. The problem is that “we live forever” is also a very pleasant statement, but it does not pretend to be true. Could you say a word how the Cordoba House will work as a multicultural bridge, if they do not plan to have a church or a synagogue inside? How exactly are they going to reach their goal to finding “commonality between Islamic and Western values” as the imam writes in his blog? Did they try to follow standard christian methods to “build bridges” like to visit those who do not believe them? By the way, had imam made something good for his NYC neighbours who loost their relatives on 9/11? I have never heard about his friendly activity toward ordinary christians or jews although he has good words for the president. If he builds “bridges” why his financial sources are hidden – it is very much against western values, does he understand that? Could you imagine that a japanese or a russian christian started such initiave without complete disclosure? Why is his organization so stubborn in choice of the place? Without such details or specific actions word “Cordoba” may remain the first symbol only. Please, note: “may”. Thank you. Leo.
    P.S. Robert, i am sorry, but your political view is not a subject here, as well as mine. And i did not mention anything about any politicians. BTW, your guess about NG as the originator of the point is not correct. First of all, provocative character of the Cordoba Iniative was anounced by a muslim (from London) who explained that sufizm prohibits such provocative (it was his word) things. The second, the connection of Cordoba to “Muslim Conquest of Hispania” was familar to me from a high school in the USSR – it was about 1964, or 1965. Only in the US i got to know another feature of Cordoba. In relation to the 9/11 i heard these ideas in Feb or Murch from somebody in youtube and then two months ago from a british:
    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjS0Novt3X4&feature=related) .
    i am looking forward with hope that maybe i miss something and you could explain me such things. Please, Robert.

  8. A building does not need to house a synagogue and a church as well as a mosque for it to be open, peaceful and multicultural! There are plenty of other places of worship in lower Manhattan, all bringing positive benefits to the city, and there is nothing to suggest that Cordoba House will be any different.

    As for the building of bridges, I agree that the name ‘Cordoba’ itself would not achieve such a thing. However, I am confident that the people of New York will do that bridge building themselves – they have been doing it for decades. Indeed, it was precisely this spirit which Atta and Bin Laden sought to attack on 9/11. Denying peaceful Muslims their right to build a place of worship (on private property, no less) plays right into the terrorists hands. Thank goodness people like Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama realise this, and refuse to play the divisive game that the terrorists want us to play.

  9. Housing a synagogue, a church and a mosque was one of obvious options only for the Center to reach the declared goal to be a multicultural one.
    May i rephrase my main questions:
    1. Could you explain why Cordoba-initiave is so stubborn in choice of the place ?
    2. Could you describe what the Center will be doing to build WestIslam bridges ?
    3. Coud you help me to understand why the Cordoba-initiave is aginst Western policy to disclose financial sources?
    Thanks.
    Leo.

  10. Leo, I think we’re arguing at cross purposes. All my points have been about the relative inoccuity of the choices the Cordoba people have made, when others have highlighted their choices as being deliberately divisive.

    For example, above you ask about location (point 1), bridge-building (point 2). On the first, I reject the idea that the choice of location is ‘stubborn’ or insensitive. Is it actually on the site of the twin towers? No. Is it private property? Yes. Are there other places of worship, and other Islamic places of worship, in Lower Mahattan? Yes. So overall, I don’t think they have a case to answer. It cannot be the case that a group of people can veto a private building project based on nothing more than outrage. That way, madness lies. The First Ammendment’s provisions for religion, and local zoning laws, are specifically designed to avoid precisely the controversy that has been manufactured by the divisive elements in media and politics… and you seem to have fallen from it. By contrast, I think the opponents of the mosque carry the burden of proof, so-to-speak, and prove why their outrage should mean the Cordoba Initiative is bullied into moving elsewhere. The First Amendment seems designed for exactly this sort of argument, and it clearly gives the benefit of the doubt to the Cordoba Initiative. I’m curious as to why you don’t think this is relevant.

    As an aside, I should point out that the First Amendment, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is specifically designed to protect unpopular people. At the moment, Muslims are unpopular and suffer public attacks on their character, but pretty much all religions and ethnicities have been the target of bigotry and irrational fears at some point in history. Such protections as offered by the Constitution or the UDHR ensure that minorities are not intimidated into a choice they would rather not make. To say, as many have done, that although these people have the right to build a mosque, they are being insensitive and should suffer criticism if they actually do it reminds me a bit of Henry Ford: “You can have any colour, so long as it is black.” The right to build a place of worship on private property has no meaning if, in reality, the majority intimidate you into not building.

    On point 2, the centre as it has been described seems like it is intended to be a moderate and open place. Coupled with the fact that New York is unquestionably a moderate and open city, I’m confident that the centre will be a bridge-building success. Of course, that may not turn out to be true… but if it does turn out to be insular and closed then that would simply be against the spirit of New York. It will fail to thrive.

    I have no idea about question 3. If they have a legal obligation to disclose financial sources, then of course they must. If not, I would not be quick to jump to conclusions. The founders of the Initiative clearly feel embattled and are likely to be elusive as a result. Obviously it would be better if they were more open on this point, though.

  11. i am sorry, Robert, but You answer as a politician who shifts incovenient question to another one, which nobody asked. How many times i have to repeat that there is no legal opposition to that center – and the first amendment is out of scope of this discussion. the problem is a moral one. why is it so important to build the center in that place? nobody will bring this case to any court. People ask about sensetivity and it looks that the guy who is famous by his moderate version of islam and anti-terrorist speaches actually is stubborn as mr. “No” (Gromyko). The imam accused USA in wrong politics and being an accessory to crime of 9/11 and pretends to get public financing which must go to organizations who are out of politics. May any reasonable person whith common sense believe that the imam, who cooperates with virtually every muslim organozations in USA that helped 9/11 terrorists, Hamas and Hisbollah – not by words, by money (and some of them got prison), imam who supports Iran revolution and the current Iran government would be out of politics? i hope not all americans lost common sense.
    The most funny statement you said is “I’m confident that the centre will be a bridge-building success”. no any specific, no any details of their plans, but, Robert, to buils such bridge is not simpler than to build Brooklyn bridge. Do you understand that without specific plans nobody would even think to give permission and money for such project? why does the Center builder not need to explain what exactly and how they want to build? where are their plans? Major Hasan prayed in a mosque which is cooperates with mr. Rauf. What is mr. Rauf going to say to another major Hasan? Remember that the imam thinks that USA is an accessory to 9/11…

    Thanks, Robert, have a nice night.
    Leo.

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