“Cordoba House,” Ground Zero, and Acts of Cultural Aggression

 

If someone else has already commented on this, forgive me–I’m hurrying to get to the mattress store (yes, that) before it closes–but “Cordoba House?” The name itself represents an act of aggression.

The history here is complicated, but in brief:

A part of the Roman empire from the second century B.C., Cordoba, like the rest of the Iberian peninsula, had converted to Christianity by the first third or so of the fifth century A.D. In the early eighth century–that is, after the city had participated in the Christian culture of the early middle ages for a full three centuries—the Muslims invaded the Iberian peninsula, making Cordoba one of their first conquests. As the Muslims continued to press north, eventually conquering much of the Iberian peninsula, Cordoba served for a time as a regional capital, subject to the caliphate of Damascus, and then for a time as a caliphate in its own right, becoming the capital for all of Muslim Iberia, or “Al-Andalus” (the name lives on in the modern term for southern Spain, Andalucia).

For the next seven-and-a-half centuries, the Christian kingdoms fought back against the Muslims, mounting a struggle that displayed long periods of desuetude, and that took place, for decades at a time, against a background of trade between the Christians and the Muslims, but that never entirely ceased. Slowly—really, it’s amazing that the struggle remained coherent across more than 700 years–the Christians regained ground. In 1236 they recaptured Cordoba. Two years later they forced the only remaining Muslim state in Iberia, the emirate of Granda, to become a vassal state of the kingdom of Castille. More than two centuries later, Ferdinand and Isabel defeated Granada itself, completing, the long struggle.

Reunited Spain fell far short of Christian ideals, needless to say—in 1492, the same year Ferdinand and Isabel defeated Granada, they expelled the Jews, and the Spanish reaction against the centuries of Muslim rule would soon produce the Inquisition. All the same, the reconquista—the reclaiming of Iberia for Christian, European culture—for the West–has always been understood as one of the signal achievements of our civilization.

“Cordoba House?”

In giving that name to the structure, those seeking to construct an enormous mosque near Ground Zero are engaging in a provocation. Instead of making a gesture of goodwill toward American society, they are celebrating an ancient Muslim incursion into the West, reminding us, for no reason other than that they insist on doing so, of long centuries during which Islam reduced Christianity to subjection, and a major territory of Europe was ruled from the thrones of caliphs. Islam, they wish to demonstrate–for who could conclude otherwise?–is again on the move.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Jason Hart: This all reminds me of an Arafat speech: one fluffy, friendly version for English audiences and another for the Middle East. The planners and financiers of the Cordoba House must have expected New York’s leaders to disregard the name for fear of appearing “Islamophobic.” Whatever their other merits or shortcomings, the Ground Zero Mosque protesters will at least make the Cordoba folks earn their propaganda… · Jul 23 at 11:26pm

    Jason, if one were a radical Islamist bent on a conflict between the West and Islam, the best propaganda victory you could hope for is, “See, America is hostile to Islam and Muslims, even when the moderates try to build a simple mosque and community center, hostile Christians march in the streets.” If I were a jihadist, I’d want that playing on Al Jazeera, and I’d want every moderate Muslim to come away just a little bit more hostile to America.

    • #1
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    @TheMugwump

    Cultural memories have deep roots. A friend of mine from Georgia once told me that he was eighteen before he realized the word “damn Yankee” was two words. Our Civil War lasted only four years. What sort of cultural memory is imprinted on the psyche of people who fought a 700 year war based on a conflict of faiths?

    I can answer for the Catholic side because it’s a subject I have studied in depth. Spain would become the most militantly Catholic nation in Europe. She dug in her heels against both the European Renaissance and the Reformation. When it came time to establish her empire in the Americas, his most Catholic Majesty, the King of Spain, sent in equal measure both conquistadors and padres. No other European power put such an emphasis on converting native peoples to Christianity.

    I have to believe that the 700 year crusade between faiths had an equally deep impact on the losing side. While Spain eventually secularized, Islam remains today the most reactionary ideology on the planet. What is the Islamic equivalent of the Protestant Reformation? There is none. And these are a people with a very long memory.

    • #2
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    @MatthewGilley
    Conor Friedersdorf the best propaganda victory you could hope for is, “See, America is hostile to Islam and Muslims, even when the moderates try to build a simple mosque and community center, hostile Christians march in the streets.” If I were a jihadist, I’d want that playing on Al Jazeera, and I’d want every moderate Muslim to come away just a little bit more hostile to America. · Jul 24 at 3:27am

    First, I see no reason we need to adjust our actions according to how they may play out on Al Jazeera. Second, your use of “simple mosque and community center” doesn’t address and account for Peter’s post and the comments on prior threads. The very name, “Cordoba House,” is a strong indication this is more than a “simple mosque and community center.” Are we wrong about that?

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR
    Conor Friedersdorf

    Jason Hart: This all reminds me of an Arafat speech: one fluffy, friendly version for English audiences and another for the Middle East. The planners and financiers of the Cordoba House must have expected New York’s leaders to disregard the name for fear of appearing “Islamophobic.” Whatever their other merits or shortcomings, the Ground Zero Mosque protesters will at least make the Cordoba folks earn their propaganda… · Jul 23 at 11:26pm

    […]If I were a jihadist, I’d want that playing on Al Jazeera, and I’d want every moderate Muslim to come away just a little bit more hostile to America. · Jul 24 at 3:27am

    Since moderate Muslims are reasonable human beings, and no reasonable human being could possibly not grasp how the GZM would be offensive to New Yorkers, the effect would be just the opposite: Moderate Muslims would be ashamed by the Jidhadists’ obvious provocation and resentful that the Jihadists are misrepresenting their faith.

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Contributor
    @JamesPoulos
    Scott Reusser

    Conor Friedersdorf

    Jason Hart: […] the Ground Zero Mosque protesters will at least make the Cordoba folks earn their propaganda…

    […]If I were a jihadist, I’d want that playing on Al Jazeera, and I’d want every moderate Muslim to come away just a little bit more hostile to America.
    Since moderate Muslims are reasonable human beings, and no reasonable human being could possibly not grasp how the GZM would be offensive to New Yorkers, […] Moderate Muslims would be ashamed by the Jidhadists’ obvious provocation and resentful that the Jihadists are misrepresenting their faith.

    As this interminable conflict goes on, it strikes me as important that we endeavor not to game ourselves into a corner trying to behave in whatever way we think will gain us the best PR. I’m weary to death of hearing about “inflaming the Arab street” and “alienating the Muslim world,” etc. — but mainly because there are better guides to doing the prudent and responsible thing than public opinion abroad. The reason not to invade Iran is not that it would play poorly in Muslim Peoria. And the GZM is not a great way to achieve CI’s own desired ends.

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR

    That’s right, James. Further, maybe, just maybe, the Muslim masses are being unreasonable, in which case seeking only to please, by definition, makes little sense.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Member
    @cdor

    Islamists bombed us. Islamists call us the Great satan. Islamists explicitly call for the overthrow and subjugation of our civilization. Muslims owe us an apology, over and over. I am still listening, all that I hear are crickets. I bite my tongue here just to be polite, but the sophistry being expressed by some could easily define dhimmitude.I don’t want no damn mosque at ground zero or ground zero plus a half dozen. Carter is right on the money. Where the hell is our new World Trade Center?

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member
    @JimChase

    I’ve lurked between this and yesterday’s original thread, wrestling with my own inner conflict on this topic. Part of me would rather steer clear and head out to get my yardwork done in the summer heat.

    So I’ll perform a little touch and go here: The current political class notwithstanding, we are a nation founded on the rule of law. If the Cordoba bunch has legally acquired property/zoning permissions, and if there is no direct tie (financial) to groups formally designated as terrorist by the State Dept., then they have the right to build wherever they want. Our laws protect such activity, be it religious, economic and/or assembly.

    I don’t like it. I can protest against it. I can ignore their propaganda. As citizens, we can keep an eye on them to a point. But I cannot take away their right, nor would I advocate such.

    That said, the controversy is of the proprietors’ own choosing. They will take heat, and deservedly so, because there is some audacity at work here. But as much as I emotionally abhor what they are proposing, we are a nation of laws. That principle must prevail.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    I’m inclined to agree, Jim. If it’s legal, let them build.

    With any luck, it will act as a source of shame for Americans, reminding us that we’re fighting a war and that our enemies can reach our shores. A “Cordoba House” might inspire many Americans to take up the challenge.

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    But that argument only regards legal opposition to Cordoba House. Non-legal opposition, like PR campaigns, is always fair game.

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Inactive
    @PeterChristofferson

    Peter Robinson has provided an excellent summary of the historical context; check out Andy McCarthy’s column on NRO for the more recent background. The people back of this see it as a win-win: either we let them build the mosque and they play it among themselves as a huge victory for Islam in the very heart of the infidel. Or we balk and they play the victim, accusing us of hypocrisy, of not living up to our ideals, and setting the stage for an even bigger victory later, after we’ve had time to internalize their criticism of us. I say let’s not fall into their trap.

    Look, if they were proposing to build an interfaith center, where people of all faiths would be welcome to worship God together and build trust, and furthermore if they were proposing to build similar centers in Cairo, Dusseldorf, Amman, Oslo, Jiddah, and so on, I would buy the “outreach” argument. As it is, I don’t. This is a deliberate provocation, for the reasons Peter and Andy spell out so eloquently.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR

    Peter: Might be easier for you to just check out “Ground Zero Mosque is not Like a Strip Club,” since it’s goin’ like wildfire, and a lot of this ground is being covered there.

    • #12
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    @PeterChristofferson

    On issues like this, I think Mark Steyn has it exactly right: the future belongs to those who “mean it”. Either we stand up and defend the fundament of our Judeo-Christian (or for that matter secular) culture, or we allow that fundament to erode until a more determined culture sweeps it away. Make no mistake, the Islamists see themselves as that more determined culture.

    I can imagine a world where a mosque near ground zero is no big deal. We don’t live in that world. If the people behind the ground zero mosque — or any self-proclaimed “moderate Muslims” — are serious about dialogue and understanding, let’s hold them to it. If we don’t, our descendants may find themselves living in a world where attendance at the ground zero mosque isn’t merely possible, it’s compulsory.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Conor Friedersdorf

    Jason, if one were a radical Islamist bent on a conflict between the West and Islam, the best propaganda victory you could hope for is, “See, America is hostile to Islam and Muslims, even when the moderates try to build a simple mosque and community center, hostile Christians march in the streets.” […] · Jul 24 at 3:27am

    Conor – it’s a valid point, but I must disagree. Iran’s government stones (or hangs, if called out on it) women for alleged adultery. Saudi Arabia’s government bans the construction of churches. Here we have private citizens protesting construction of a Muslim building with a historically laden name, near the site of a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists. If moderate Muslims are incensed by that, it reflects a problem with moderate Muslims which no amount of gentle PR is likely to resolve.

    And what about the alternative? If no one protested, do you doubt that your hypothetical radical Islamist would brag of a victory against the Americans who know nothing of history and ignore any provocation?

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MelFoil

    We all realize that the Cordoba House is designed to be the third plane–full of recruiting zeal and propaganda rather than jet fuel. But I don’t see the overwhelming will to stop it. Especially not in liberal New York City.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member
    @

    This all reminds me of an Arafat speech: one fluffy, friendly version for English audiences and another for the Middle East. The planners and financiers of the Cordoba House must have expected New York’s leaders to disregard the name for fear of appearing “Islamophobic.” Whatever their other merits or shortcomings, the Ground Zero Mosque protesters will at least make the Cordoba folks earn their propaganda…

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Inactive
    @ConfuciustheOEcumenicalVolgi

    In the old days, after writing “al-Andalus” most Arabic authors would write “May God swiftly restore it to Islam.” Not directly relevant, but fun trivia.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Despite my disagreement with prevailing sentiment on this thread, I am impressed by the polite restraint shown on a difficult subject, and I think we’re all in agreement that these conversations are important to have. So thank you for hosting, Ricochet, and thanks for your thoughts, everyone.

    If I could respond to everyone at once: a distinction must be drawn. It’s imperative that we stand adamantly against the implementation of Sharia, that we don’t compromise on freedom of speech, that we protect the rights of women, and a dozen other matters where there might be conflict we Muslims.

    But the construction of a mosque — while it might affect the sensitivities of some of us — doesn’t threaten the values or rights of any of us. Unlike sharia, there is no sense in which it moves us closer to “losing” as a civilization.

    Indeed, what brings us closer to losing is allowing a small band of murderous fanatics to cause us to compromise our commitment to freedom of religion.

    • #18
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    @PeterChristofferson

    I too am impressed with the high level of discussion on this site, which is why I decided to join. I’m pretty much done with the Facebook crowd.

    I must humbly disagree with that last sentiment, however, which perfectly expresses the attitude the Islamists hope we will take. Opposing the construction of this mosque on this site is not the same thing as compromising “our commitment to freedom of religion”. It just isn’t. I dare say there are mosques going up all over the country right now, and welcome. This particular group has no more “right” to build this particular structure than I have the right to hold Christian services in the parking lot of my local synagogue or start a pig farm in my back yard. But they certainly do have the right to continue to exercise their freedom of religion, and no one in this thread is arguing otherwise.

    • #19
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    @heathermc

    one of the interesting aspects of this is that the present ‘elite’ (represented in this case by Bloomberg and the other NYC movers and shakers) cannot understand the power of symbolism that is not American. “Cordoba”, now. It has powerful meaning to the world of Islam. The Crescent: another symbol that ‘means something’ to vast swatches of the Islamic world. Perhaps this incomprehension, this parochialism, results from our increasing secularism. Religion, any great religion, is freighted with emotive symbols (for which people have killed and died). But our current elites have never known that weight of splendour. It is here that I have always perceived them as silly, foolish, weak and ignorant. They do not understand that the supporters of the Cordoba Mosque really CARE that it will overlook the Ground Zero Pit. And they sneer at Americans who understand what that Pit symbolizes to American history, because to them, there are no symbols and no meaning at all.

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  21. Profile Photo Member
    @
    heathermc: Religion, any great religion, is freighted with emotive symbols (for which people have killed and died). But our current elites have never known that weight of splendour. It is here that I have always perceived them as silly, foolish, weak and ignorant. They do not understand that the supporters of the Cordoba Mosque really CARE that it will overlook the Ground Zero Pit. And they sneer at Americans who understand what that Pit symbolizes to American history, because to them, there are no symbols and no meaning at all. · Jul 24 at 2:31pm

    But it will not overlook the Ground Zero pit at all. It is two blocks away, and without a line of site, as is apparent if you imagine a 13 story building amid the gargantuant skyscrapers of the financial district.

    Its also worth noting that many Americans who support this project have symbolic reasons of their own for doing so. For me, it’s a symbol of freedom of religion, and for others, a symbol of civilizational co-existence, or the distinction between Islam and radical Islam.

    This controversy is party about a disagreement over what it symbolizes.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Contributor
    @MollieHemingway

    Conor,

    “But it will not overlook the Ground Zero pit at all. It is two blocks away”?

    You can’t be serious.

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    @cdor

    Unfortunately, Mollie, he is.

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  24. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Mollie Hemingway: Conor,

    “But it will not overlook the Ground Zero pit at all. It is two blocks away”?

    You can’t be serious. · Jul 24 at 3:50pm

    I don’t understand your objection. Its a factually statement. Apparently proximity to Ground Zero matters for a lot of people waging this argument. Heathermc asserted that it overlooks the Ground Zero pit. But that is factually wrong.

    Is there some reason it’s unserious to say as much?

    Heathermc might say that there is still something symbolically wrong with a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. Fine. I acknowledge that argument, but surely it is different from the symbolism of “overlooking the pit.”

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Contributor
    @JamesPoulos
    Conor Friedersdorf

    Mollie Hemingway: Conor,

    “But it will not overlook the Ground Zero pit at all. It is two blocks away”?

    You can’t be serious. · Jul 24 at 3:50pm

    I don’t understand your objection. Its a factually statement. Apparently proximity to Ground Zero matters for a lot of people waging this argument. Heathermc asserted that it overlooks the Ground Zero pit. But that is factually wrong.

    Is there some reason it’s unserious to say as much?

    Heathermc might say that there is still something symbolically wrong with a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. Fine. I acknowledge that argument, but surely it is different from the symbolism of “overlooking the pit.” · Jul 24 at 5:33pm

    Conor is right on this point, say I. Either you literally can look down from inside or atop the GZM at the pit, which shouldn’t be a pit and is our fault that it is, or you can’t. That really would be more inflammatory than the current location. But the current location, as I argued, is as close as the CI could possibly get to Ground Zero. (Cue dark music: Would the CI have avoided a closer location?)

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Contributor
    @MollieHemingway

    Sure. And being literally on top of Ground Zero would be more inflammatory than one block away.

    But it’s unserious to quibble about whether something “two blocks” away overlooks Ground Zero or not. We all know that proximity is the whole reason why some folks are upset and/or concerned.

    Think of it this way:

    Wife: I can’t believe you slept with my sister.

    Husband: Well, technically she’s your step-sister.

    It’s true. Technically she’s your step-sister. This “factual” correction does no service to the dispute at hand. Likewise, arguing about whether a two-block distance (a two-block distance!) overlooks Ground Zero or not is just . . . GAH!

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  27. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Mollie,

    I regret that it bothers you, and I’m not just trying to score rhetorical points.

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  28. Profile Photo Contributor
    @MollieHemingway

    Conor,

    Oh I didn’t think you were — I just think that we have to debate this on the merits while also acknowledging that this is a difficult issue.

    • #28

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