Cordoba House: An opportunity for coming
Rheinischer Merkur, Germany
Cordoba House: Let it Be a Belated Triumph of Tolerance
"A victory by opponents of the
mosque would give the Islamists an opening pitch: they wait to expose the true face
of the 'godless West' that they allege is fighting Islam, and use it for their
own propaganda purposes. … Just like its namesake, that Spanish
city of tolerance during the Middle Ages, this would be the opposite of what
the 9-11 attackers intended. Preventing this would allow inhumanity another belated victory."
The pioneer of Turkish
nationalism, Ziya Gökalp
coined the phrase in 1912: “Democracy is only the train we board until we reach
our destination. Mosques are our barracks, minarets are our bayonets, domes are
our helmets, and the believers are our soldiers.” Protests against the building of mosques occurring almost regularly nowadays in western countries are reflexes precisely against this secular claim to power of Islam, which Muslims have never been able to convincingly repudiate.
It’s no wonder then, that the
proposed construction of the Muslim community center “Cordoba House,” in close
proximity to Ground Zero, has brought emotions to the boiling point. The symbolism
of the site weighs so heavily on America, that even for a sophisticated city
like New York where there are already over 200 mosques, this is no casual agenda
item. The fact that the building authorities failed to take account of this from
the outset and didn’t seek greater public approval beforehand makes this all
the more incomprehensible.
But the current debate, no
matter how heated, shouldn’t result in a permanent strain on the coexistence of
different cultures and religions. It requires both sides to exercise
self-criticism and self-control. So it’s up to Muslims to acknowledge the
protests as a serious warning signal. In the U.S. Muslims largely belong to the
upper middle class; are educated and are often wealthy. Despite this, they've
been unable to counter the growing skepticism against them.
In fact, in the U.S. and
elsewhere, Muslim engagement in government and civil society is often in short
supply. There is a lack of vocal protest against the countless inhumanities and
acts of terrorism that are committed in the name of Allah, and a lack of public
support for allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly, criticism is far
too rare of the shameful fact that Christians in Islamic countries are prohibited
from establishing places of worship and churches. This kind of restraint does
nothing to contribute to confidence-building between Muslims and non-Muslims;
rather, it promotes an atmosphere of suspicion.
Likewise, Muslims in turn
have a right to expect from Christians (as well as from non-believers) that a fundamental
differentiation be made between Islam and the perversion of Islam, which
includes the crimes of September 11. Islam and terror have as little to do with
one another as Christianity and terror. A victory by opponents of the mosque
would give the Islamists an opening pitch: they wait to expose the true face of
the “godless West” that they allege is fighting Islam, and use it for their own
With his initial support for
the Cordoba House, President Barack Obama gave due recognition to the religious
freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. His sympathy was entirely in line
with the attempt of his presidency to reach out to Muslims and the Arab World. The
fact that under the pressure of this fall’s upcoming congressional elections prompted
Obama to backtrack at the beginning of the week, reveals a weak backbone of an
already politically-wounded president.
Consequently, courage will have
to be demonstrated by others. One advantage of advocates of the Islamic center
is that the building permit has already been issued. And despite any
reservations they have, New Yorkers seem to have a strong sense that it cannot
be the responsibility of politicians to decide when and where people can pray. This
debate has already become too much of a campaign issue - not the best situation
in which to calm heated tempers.
But so as not to squander the
opportunity offered by this project, calm is precisely what is needed: near a site where Christians and Muslims were savagely murdered,
a mosque is first and foremost a symbol of respect for life that connects all the
Abrahamic religions. If put in place, the name of the center - “Cordoba” - will
promote peaceful coexistence. Just like its namesake, that Spanish city of
tolerance during the Middle Ages, this would be the opposite of what the
September 11th attackers intended. Preventing this would allow inhumanity another belated victory.
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