On September 11, 2001 the World Trade Center, located in lower Manhattan in New York City, was destroyed. It was the largest component of a terrorist attack, a concerted effort by Islamic extremists using our own airliners to destroy the WTC, the Pentagon, and the White House. Fortunately only a small part of the Pentagon was leveled and the plane that was to hit the White House crashed before it made it there, the passengers on the jet thwarting the hijackers' efforts.
Not surprisingly, this caused a strain in Western/Islamic relations, fueling, in many Americans, a hatred for Muslims, often all Arabs by ignorant bigots, and the deadly acts set off a chain of events that saw three wars start (that have yet to end), the creation of a new Orwellian federal cabinet called the Department of Homeland Security, suicide bombings in London subway tunnels and other such attacks, and an increased paranoia worldwide of anybody who even looks Arab.
Ever since moderate Muslims have claimed to decry the horrific and deadly acts on 9/11 and have been seeking ways to improve relations with the West ever since. In this vein, (supposedly) in 2009 a group called the Cordoba Initiative, rather curiously, announced plans to build a gigantic, 13-story Mosque and/or a community center of sorts just a few hundred feet from where the WTC's twin towers once stood. The main man behind this plan is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, of the Cordoba Initiative, who has been leading a congregation of Muslims in Tribeca for over a decade. According to Cordoba's website, www.cordobainitiative.org, the Cordoba House "is a Muslim-led project which will build a world-class facility that promotes tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City. The center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy." With an auditorium, swimming pool, restaurants, recreational facilities its been compared to a YMCA or a Jewish Community Center. It would be built right where an old Burlington Coat factory building is right now that was so close to the destruction that it incurred minor damage. The sticking point (well, one of them) is that it will include prayer spaces which makes it a mosque, and it had been called a mosque by the group itself but now they are saying it's really only a huge community center. Most people, though, still call the planned site a mosque. It is most often referred to as the "Ground Zero Mosque."
Despite earnest dialog by Imam Rauf about Cordoba's good intentions, this has naturally infuriated many families of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks. To them it is an insult. A term I have heard quite a lot during my research, said by my wife even, is that it's a "slap in the face" to the victims. It seems in poor taste to erect a 13-story symbol of the religion many see as being the cause of the attacks, even though Rauf sincerely claims he wants it to be in honor of the victims and that neither he nor his organization support what the extremists have done and do. Or, at least, the religion used as a justification of it. Considering how far-flung from the site some of the human remains were found (hundreds of whom still haven't been identified) it is conceivable, though not especially likely, that the Cordoba House would be built right on the unmarked graves of some of the victims. It is being called "sacred ground" by some relatives of victims even though there are strip clubs near the site, too.
Hey, that's America for you.
We are and always have been a multicultural "melting pot," the good ol' USofA, and that's what proponents of the mosque, or community center, say. What could be more American (hell, New Yorkan for that matter): to be cool with the moderate end of a religion indicted in the worst attack on US soil in its history to build a center of that religion hundreds of feet from the main site of the attack, to better relations with those people, most of which are wonderful, law-abiding American citizens.
Well one person who isn't cool with it is former New York City firefighter Tim Brown (who was a survivor of the attacks and lost many dear friends in the towers). He has emerged as the leader of the opposition, appearing in many debates opposite Imam Rauf. They rarely get heated, though, and Brown expresses his supposed respect for Rauf and mostly just asks questions, like where is his group getting the money needed to fund the project - which is reported sometimes as being $1.5 million and other times as high as $4.8 million? It's a fair question, given that if it comes from Saudi Arabia (who, with its vast oil wealth, funds lots of mosque-building), the good intentions of Cordoba House comes into question. If the money comes from a place with Shariah Law, that executes gays, people from other religions, and others, and punishes women for being raped, that's very antithetical to Western values and doesn't do well for Cordoba's emphatic claim that it deplores the 9/11 attacks and the types of people who perpetrated it.
Tim Brown said during a community meeting about the Cordoba House on May 25, 2010, that four separate times he tried to get an official answer from Imam Rauf on where the funding came from. The first time he was ignored, the second time he was told it was from "3 organizations" and the third time he was told that they didn't have to tell him, and the fourth time he was told that it was from the American taxpayers. (I suspect whomever told him that actually meant that the funders were tax-paying Americans. Can you just imagine how much more the victim's families would be enraged if they learned their tax dollars were going to help pay for it?)
Regardless, the question of where the funding would be coming from has not been answered adequately enough. Even though the Cordoba Initiative does not have to tell anybody where they get the money, and since they own the old Burlington building - which for years has already been a mosque - they can do whatever they want with it, legally, it would probably behoove them to be clear on it, because being secretive would only arouse more suspicion and opposition. To be sure, from an objective perspective, to expect them to do this but not other organizations and their projects, is unfair. But I think most people would agree, given the circumstances, here full disclosure is important. But Cordoba has thus far been dodgy on this, which leads people to ask "Why?"
Maybe this isn't a big deal at all, though. Does where they get the money really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things? Early drawings of the building depict a large, square, steel building, not very conspicuous save its height (in other words, no minarets). There is something to be said about its height, though. Freud would probably have a field day with the symbolism of its height as with the erection of any tall building. But anyway, people walking by might not even know what's inside it. Had Imam Rauf never made a big deal about reaching out to the community about it, would that many people have even known or cared? Would most of the victims' families even known what was there (after the fact)? After all, it's just a mosque (that might be really more of a community center), nothing new in New York City. Even if it's a 13-story one.
The problem is, the story of this debate has deeper layers. Like New York City itself and its rich multi-ethnic culture, there's a lot more going on under the surface; there's so much you'll miss if you simply stroll down Broadway and just look into the windows.
I want to preface this next section by saying that I'm going to start out with a few facts that are not disputed and simply part of history. But then I will get into things that I am unable to verify 100% but are still important enough to mention. And then there will be things that might sound like they are from some crazed conspiracy theory and I may need your help to check them out further than I have the ability to. I just want you to be aware that I am aware of the controversial nature of the following information and, even though I will mention them, I retain a certain level of necessary skepticism of their accuracy. I encourage you to do your own research if you feel so inclined.
OK, now that that's out of the way, the name Córdoba. Where does it come from? Córdoba is a city in Andalusia, southern Spain, and the capital of the province of Córdoba. In ancient times if was an Iberian and Roman city, but in the Middle Ages it was the capital of an Islamic caliphate. In 711 it was captured by an Islamic army. It was in 716 when it became a provincial capital. It was during this time that a Christian Visigothic Church was destroyed and the Great Mosque of Córdoba was built on that site and using materials from the destroyed church. Although it was meant to remain there forever, in June of 1236 the Spanish Reconquista happened and shortly afterward it was turned back into a church.
It has been said that destroying a sacred and symbolic religious center of a land Muslims have conquered and building a mosque in its place - usually using materials from the destroyed former structure - is a standard practice in Islam. Maybe it's not and there's no truth to that, but regardless, it is a demonstrable historical pattern. This happened with the Dome on the Rock at the Temple Mount, and at Mecca, which, before Islam took it over, was a pilgrimage site for pagan polytheists. The Great Mosque of Córdoba was seen as a symbolic beginning of the Islamic take-over of Spain. It was supposedly the first such event, so some believe it to be not only as a symbolic take-over of Spain, but of Europe as a whole.
It is because of this that any opponents of Cordoba House that possess this historical knowledge are speculating that building this 13-story mosque (or community center) so close to Ground Zero is this pattern happening all over again. The World Trade Center was destroyed by Muslim extremists, and now a very large symbol of Islam is being built in its place - well, almost. The problems with this hypothesis is that it's not technically on the spot where the WTC was, and that the WTC was not a sacred place (until it was destroyed, that is). But the opponents, including Tim Brown, argue that the WTC was the symbol of the American economy, capitalist dominance, a financial epicenter for the nation. And in the secular and multi-faith United States of America, in lieu of a religious epicenter, a financial one will do.
Is this really what Feisal Abdul Rauf and the Cordoba Initiative are up to? Or is this just another crazy 9/11 conspiracy theory? Let's see: it's paranoia, sounds really juicy, provocative, and there's little evidence to support it. Yes, it seems to qualify.
Or does it? Is there actually good evidence for it? For example, the words of Imam Rauf himself?
In a New York Daily News article, Imam Rauf is quoted as saying about Cordoba House, "My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. Our purpose is to interweave America's Muslim population into the mainstream society."
Now, enter a man named Walid Shoebat. He's a "former terrorist" and author ("God's War on Terror"), now a crusader of a different sort, scanning Arabic websites and watching out for Islamic terrorism. During an interview on a YouTube channel called "Pajamasmedia" he claims that what Islamic theologians and Imam Rauf are saying in Arabic contradict what they say about Cordoba House in English. He claims that at hadielislam.com, one of the most prominent Islamic news media sites, in an interview for an article, Imam Rauf, when asked about establishing an Islamic governance in the Western world, said "throughout my discussions with contemporary Islamic theologians, it is clear an Islamic state can be established in not just a single form or mold; it can be established through a kingdom or a democracy. The important issue is to establish the general fundamentals of Shariah that are required to govern." Shoebat says that this means that, basically, through peaceful means, Shariah Law can slowly be established, even in a democracy, such as the United States. In Cairo University's rights4all.net, Shoebat claims that Rauf says he doesn't believe in religious dialog. Shoebat goes on to talk about Cordoba, and how now with Cordoba House he is now modeling what happened in Spain and taking advantage of the grand idea of the Left in this country of an Islamic democracy. Shoebat then expounded on this idea of destroying something and then building a mosque and he says, in Shariah Law, this practice has a name: "wokf" (I am probably not spelling this word correctly, if it even has an English spelling to it; it's possible that it doesn't). It's essentially an Islamic law that a mosque is actually kind of an embassy and should never be closed or torn-down and what this means that for Cordoba House is that it should remain there forever and if it ever is closed for some reason it would cause great unrest and hatred in the Islamic world.
But what Shoebat says later is most startling. He claims that, while there are plenty of peaceful, or "liberal Muslims," every time he checks out Islamic scholars, or officials in such organizations as the Council for American Islamic Relations, or CAIR, or even down to Muslim Student Unions, that, despite the peaceful rhetoric they tell us in English, they are very much for a jihadist ideology and for Shariah Law. Finally, he explains an Islamic law that forbids Muslims to be friendly to infidels, unless the infidel is in a position of authority, in which case the Muslim person should smile at them outwardly, but "curse them in their heart." Shoebat says this is rampant. He says that, because of what he does now, people come to him with names of Islamic scholars who claim to be peaceful so that he may check them out. Shoebat claims that every single time when he checks out what they say in Arabic it turns out that they are not peaceful at all and support Shariah and jihadist movements. And this includes Imam Rauf. And his motivation for building Cordoba House may be to establish the Islamic property, the "wokf," an embassy that can never be closed down, and if it ever is closed down, it will infuriate Muslims globally, pit American against American, and Shoebat describes this as a win-win situation for Rauf and Cordoba.
So. Considering Mr. Shoebat: the six-million dollar questions are: is he full of shit? Is what he's claiming mostly true? Partly true? Does he have a hidden agenda of his own? Is he to be trusted? Because if what he says is true, it changes everything. It means that Cordoba House isn't a beautiful rainbow of multiculturalism to clear up misconceptions about Islam, condemn terrorism, and promote tolerance and a wonderful mutually beneficial exchange of ideas between cultures. If Shoebat is right, it is actually quite the opposite. If it really is part of the beginnings of a Shariah take-over of America, something many individuals in the UK and Europe are claiming are happening there already, establishing Islamic laws that are homophobic, sexist, bigoted, and misogynistic that could not be less tolerant, then any democracy-loving American should be opposed to this building.
Even if Cordoba's intentions are as laudable as they claim, how will the rest of the Islamic world see it, symbolically? What if the jihadists see the Cordoba House as a symbol of victory, of conquest? I'd be hard-pressed to believe that Rauf was not aware of this. If he claims that this initiative is an effort to combat the terrorist ideology why would he risk emboldening them?
Of course, again, the worst problem with the mosque in that spot, despite any good intentions, is the deep offense to the families of the victims. Even though the terrorists clearly didn't represent all of Islam - only a small extremist sect with their own intepretation of the Koran - it's still hurtful to them and very odd to build it so huge and so close to the WTC site. On Sunday, June 6, 2010 hundreds of people gathered in Lower Manhattan to protest the plans to build Cordoba House, a group calling itself "Stop Islamization of America." They gathered at the corner of Church and Liberty Streets where the mosque is to be built.
By the way, I think that's a stupid name for the organization, because the term "Islamization" always makes the person using it seem ultra-paranoid and perhaps delusional.
But I have to admit, when I first heard some type of Mosque would be built on or near the World Trade Center site, I was skeptical. I immediately thought it would be offensive to the victims' families (and it is). But, I want to be a tolerant kind of guy, my personal social philosophies are very liberal and progressive; I'm very much anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-sexism, vehemently for equal rights for all (the bans on gay marriage is a huge pet peeve of mine right now). The anti-immigrant stuff going on in Arizona right now is a huge annoyance. One of the things I love about this nation is the fact that we have religious freedom and, at least in the recent past, have accepted immigrants from all over the world, from many different cultures and nations, and we truly are a great melting pot to be proud of. And New York City, which I had the pleasure of visiting for the first time this past November, is like a microcosm of the nation, a vast metropolis of all kinds of different folks, usually getting along pretty well with each other. The problem is, when you're talking about Muslims, or Moslems, and you get into talking about issues of terrorism, 9/11, the London Subway bombings, Shariah Law, you have people waiting to pounce on you for being a bigot, a Muslim-hater, an "Islamophobe," and suddenly you're being shoved to the Right, right into a group of hate-mongering, racist, homophobic, oppressive, bigoted Tea Partiers. And this can happen, even though you try to specify that you're only talking about extremists, and even though you don't like the jihadists because they are hate-mongering, racist, homophobic, oppressive, and bigoted.
So I tried to be extra careful here, and hopefully I was. And I've also tried to not jump to any conclusions or give into any paranoia and do all the research I had time to do. In the past few days I've tried to learn all I could about Cordoba House and get perspectives from both sides of the issue. And I think anybody reading this should do the same. Let's be very thoughtful about this and not be reactionary on one side or the other. I think Cordoba House warrants being critically considered and one shouldn't automatically assume that it's simply what it claims to be - an innocent and beautiful symbol of peace and multiculturalism - or a purposeful attempt to offend the 9/11 victims' families and the first step of a nefarious Shariah take-over of America. Personally, I'm stuck here. I haven't come to any conclusion. On the one hand, I'm afraid of giving into a paranoid, bigoted conspiracy theory. On the other, I don't want to be naive.
On yet another hand, does it matter if it's true or not? Would such a campaign, albeit a slow one, to somehow, someway "take over" our culture actually have any chance of succeeding in this great democracy we live in? I think the chances of that are slim to none. Still, I am curious as to Imam Rauf's true intentions, but it looks like to truly know what they are I'd have to learn Arabic.
What can I, or we, do about this? Well, is there anybody here with the capability to check out Walid Shoebat's claims? Does anybody here speak or read Arabic? It looks like this all hinges on whether or not this guy's story is true, if what he tells us about extremist Islam is accurate or not.
I'll hand it over to you. What do you think about Cordoba House? Had you even heard of it before reading this? The news media isn't saying much about it. Almost without exception all the tv media coverage I viewed on YouTube were reports by Fox News. Yeah, I know, not trustworthy most of the time. Their reputation only made this endeavor that much more difficult. So I'm reaching out here, maybe looking to start a discussion on this. Maybe others will post writeups in this node to either refute or agree with anything I'm saying, or anything in between.
In closing, in lieu of a definite conclusion, I'd like to list off some questions I have for the Cordoba Initiative, and Imam Rauf:
- Why, if you are who you say you are, and for what you say you're for, is your organization named the Cordoba Initiative, and the proposed building called Cordoba House, given the historical symbolism of that name?
- Why does it have to be so tall? Maybe they exist, but I've never seen or heard of a community center with that many stories.
- Why don't you provide full disclosure of your funding?
- Why weren't you more sensitive to the 9/11 victim's families? Didn't you expect them to be against this, offended by it?
- I know you've answered this question but maybe you need a better answer because people are still asking it: why so close to the World Trade Center? Was that really necessary? Couldn't it have been a few miles further away?
DonJamie says: The historical symbolism of the name Córdoba is that for centuries that city was a center of learning and culture where Muslims Christians and Jews lived together in peace.
Touché. But "peace" can be a deceptive term. You could achieve world peace by eliminating free will. I'm more interested in how free they were. I understand that things were different then and they didn't have the same concept of civil liberties that we do now (except for ancient Rome perhaps). But I wonder how totalitarian that Islamic rule was, despite Muslims, Christians, and Jews living together in peace. I could imagine an America subject to the rule of Shariah law that'd be quite peaceful indeed, despite women being forced to cover their faces and homosexuals being imprisoned... or worse. (I need to stress that I am not actually afraid of that happening, I'm just creatively concepting there.) Peace is not always a good thing.
Sources: New York Daily News, Wikipedia, various media reports on YouTube - just put "Ground Zero Mosque" or "Cordoba House" in the search field in YouTube, grab your mouse, a sandwich, and some coffee or a soft drink, and watch away.