Two Misconceptions About the "Ground Zero Mosque"
by Stephen Schwartz
As known to many readers of Illyria, New York's best newspaper representing a local community with a large Muslim contingent, I am an opponent of the proposal to build a multistory, high-rise megamosque at "Ground Zero," site of the World Trade Center twin towers destroyed by Wahhabi terrorists on September 11, 2001.
My objections to the project have been set out in a series of interviews and articles, the latter which may be read at www.islamicpluralism.org, the website of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, where I serve as Executive Director. My opposition to the scheme is based on concern for its insensitivity toward the victims of 9/11; lack of financial transparency by the promoters of the project; and the association of its "spiritual guide," Feisal Abdul Rauf, with the radical Islamist Perdana Global Peace Organization and similar groups and individuals.
The Perdana group is headquartered in Malaysia and benefits from the patronage of that country's former prime minister, Mahathir ibn Mohamad, one of the most diligent and venomous purveyors of anti-Jewish propaganda in the Muslim world. In traditional Islam, hatred of the Jews and Christians, as People of the Book, is prohibited.
But Perdana is not only anti-Jewish, i.e. anti-Israel, it is also distinctly anti-American, and the circle with which Feisal Abdul Rauf is associated includes, incredibly enough, Michel Chossudovsky, a Canadian academic who infamously, loudly, and internationally supported Slobodan Milošević. Chossudovsky went to the Hague in an attempt to testify on behalf of the Serbian fascist dictator.
Albanians and Albanian-Americans, both Muslim and Christian, as well as those of no religion, should therefore easily understand why a project like the "Ground Zero mosque," in addition its insensitivity, would be objectionable. Mahathir claims to defend the Muslims in Gaza but disregards the fate of the Balkan Muslims. He has a short memory: in reality, Malaysia was one of few powerful Muslim countries to provide the Bosnians with significant political and economic assistance, and Malaysia has recognized the independence of Kosova. But the convolutions of global Muslim politics on Balkan affairs are chapters in an old story with continuing echoes. The more powerful Muslim states have done little to assist the reconstruction of Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosova, or the transformation of Albania, except to introduce missionaries for Wahhabi radicalism and agents of Iranian influence into those countries as well as Macedonia and Montenegro.
I am a Muslim and Sufi, and I object to construction of the "Ground Zero mosque." As Muslims we are taught to avoid creating conflicts with our non-Muslim neighbors, a principle that has been noticeably honored in the Albanian lands. It is impossible to imagine that the originators of the "Ground Zero mosque" project did not understand that it would provoke anti-Muslim feelings, worsening the situation of Muslims in the West. Numerous other, more prominent Muslims have agreed with my opposition to the effort.
Nevertheless, the discourse on the "Ground Zero mosque" has been distorted, in my view, by two historical misconceptions. Opponents have compared the project with the imagined construction of a Serbian memorial at Srebrenica, as an action outrageous to the memory of the dead.
Those who compare the World Trade Center horror with that in Srebrenica ignore several important points. They seem never to have even looked at a map of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Srebrenica today is inside Serbian-controlled territory, that of the illegitimate "Republika Srpska." After it fell in 1995, Srebrenica was left in the "R.S." by the Dayton Accords. The effort to establish memorials for the Bosniak dead in Srebrenica was obstructed by the local Serb authorities for years. It was and to some extent remains dangerous for Bosnian Muslims to travel to Srebrenica. One could only compare Srebrenica with Ground Zero if, after 9/11, lower Manhattan had come under the permanent control of Al-Qaida, with the blessing of the so-called "international community."
Another historical misunderstanding involves the name of Córdoba, the city in Spain which the so-called Cordoba Initiative, founded by Feisal Abdul Rauf, commemorates. The "Ground Zero mosque," now known as "Park51," was to have been called "Cordoba House." It has been widely argued, by those I must consider allies in opposing this absurd scheme and the unproductive confrontations it has generated, that "Córdoba" is a symbol of Islamic conquest. In the cities they conquered, Muslims consistently built mosques on the ruins of the sacred structures of rulers that preceded them, or Islamized pre-Muslim religious monuments. In this argument, Jerusalem and Istanbul serve as apparently unanswerable examples, since the Dome of the Rock was erected at the site of the former Jewish Temple, and the Hagia Sophia cathedral was turned into a major mosque. But the identification of the Andalusian city of Córdoba, and its magnificent Great Mosque, with the former Christian city of Corduba, originally built by Carthaginians, has been challenged by Spanish historians. The great Américo Castro (1885-1972), one of the fathers of modern comparative studies of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim life in Spain, commented in his standard work The Spaniards (University of California Press, 1971), that the identification of Córdoba with Corduba emerged in Spain only after its Christian reconquest. Further, Castro writes, "An authority on the archeological past of the present [Córdoba] says that its ruins, 'destroyed and calcined, lie buried at a depth of 4 to 5 meters. What catastrophes occurred between the fourth and eighth centuries which would have produced the total razing of the Roman city and the accumulation of so enormous a mass of earth and rubble?'"
As much as I oppose Feisal Abdul Rauf and his Cordoba Initiative, I do not think his intent in choosing that name was to proclaim a Muslim triumph. Those who misuse Spanish history in this manner seem not to know that the Christians retook Córdoba from the Muslims in 1236 and that the Great Mosque was, forthwith, transformed into a Catholic cathedral. Córdoba and Al-Andalus, the Islamic dominion in Spain, are symbols for today's Muslims of loss, not victory. Córdoba also enjoys an idealized reputation as a center of intellectual excellence and interfaith respect, since it produced the Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd (1126-1198) as well as the Jewish jurist and philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135-1204). I will grant that Feisal Abdul Rauf sought to evoke the enlightenment of Islamic Córdoba when he named his "initiative" and his "house." But for those who know Spanish Muslim history, Córdoba represents a double tragedy: it fell to the Christians because of the devastating effect of the fundamentalist Almohads (Al-Muwahhidun), who invaded Muslim Spain and, by repression and other cruelties, undermined Islamic power there. The Almohads have an equivalent in today's Wahhabis, who provide a further illustration of the destruction wrought against the Muslims by radicals. Those who express nostalgia for Islamic Córdoba – and there are many who do – should bear in mind that the Islamic global community faces the same internal threat as when the extremist Almohads sacked the legendary Córdoba in 1148, nearly a millennium past.