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  • The “Ground Zero Mosque”: Ignorance, Prejudice and Historical Precedents - Part 1

    by Jai
    19th August, 2010 at 7:15 pm    

    “It is rash to condemn where you are ignorant.”

    Much has recently been said about the proposed Cordoba House facility in New York, dubbed the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. As is now widely known, CNN anchor and Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria returned his award to the ADL and explained his rationale extremely well (he’s subsequently also summarised Sufism and the reasons for Al-Qaeda’s hatred of it); Alex Massie also recently discussed the issue and made a number of brilliant points. This article in the New York Times by the acclaimed historian William Dalrymple about the Cordoba Initiative’s Sufi connection is excellent too, as is this article by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post. This segment from MSNBC by Keith Olbermann forcefully argues against the escalating bigotry towards Muslims and also discusses the potential ramifications for America if these attitudes are allowed to continue. US President Barack Obama himself has now emphatically voiced his support for the right of the founders of Cordoba House to build the proposed centre (also see here). Even Christopher Hitchens has been demolishing the arguments of many of the people opposed to Cordoba House (including Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin) and has condemned their sectarian prejudice and often staggering level of ignorance. The quote at the top of this paragraph by the Roman philosopher Seneca clearly still has great resonance 2000 years later; coincidentally, the great man was born in Cordoba himself.

    First of all, Cordoba House is not going to be located at Ground Zero; it is actually going be two blocks away from (and out of sight of) the location of the former World Trade Centre, on the site of a building which has already been used for Friday prayers by local Muslims for several months and caters for overspill from an actual mosque nearby. There is already a mosque four blocks from the Ground Zero site and it has been there for about 40 years. Secondly, Cordoba House is not actually going to be a mosque in the conventional sense at all but a multifunctional cultural centre, and will include a performing arts centre, art exhibitions, sports & fitness facilities, a restaurant, auditorium, theatre, and childcare facilities. In fact, the founders of Cordoba House don’t even refer to their proposed prayer facilities as a “mosque”, and insist that it is actually going to be an interfaith prayer area within the building, open to all and with the intention of being available to people from any religious background.

    There’s a very simple concept which some people seem to be unable (or, possibly, unwilling) to grasp: Islam is not a monolithic, homogenous faith. Similarly, Muslims are not a monolithic, homogenous group. Thinking otherwise is not only the equivalent of non-Christians insisting that the most puritanical, ultraorthodox historical interpretation of European Catholicism is the only “true” version of Christianity, but it’s also the equivalent of stigmatising the world’s entire Christian population and even objecting to the presence of Christian churches worldwide because of the endemic sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests which has recently been uncovered here in the West.

    In fact, there are interpretations of Islam — particularly amongst Sufis — which are directly opposed to the sectarian bigotry and extremism embodied by Al-Qaeda. This isn’t a recent development; for example, in terms of the Indian subcontinent, this has been the case for most of the past thousand years. And the proposed Cordoba House facility isn’t a “Wahhabi mosque” or even remotely related to that kind of fanatical religious fundamentalism; the founder of the facility, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is actually a Sufi himself who has been heavily involved in promoting religious pluralism and interfaith understanding & friendship – the kind of Muslim whom Al-Qaeda and similar Islamist extremists vehemently hate. As Fareed Zakaria recently said on CNN, Rauf is actually Osama bin Laden’s nightmare.

    It’s also extremely important to remember that dozens of ordinary innocent Muslims in New York were also killed on 9/11 as a result of the Al-Qaeda attack. Perhaps it’s necessary for other people to rethink their perspective and consider that Cordoba House is effectively aligned with the American Muslim victims of 9/11, not actually the perpetrators of the atrocity. Grasping that simple fact would of course require the people concerned to listen to what President Abraham Lincoln termed “the better angels of our nature”.

    Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face

    Some of the more hysterical opponents to Cordoba House have also claimed that it represents “a victory for radical Islam” and will advance the agenda of Islamist extremists. The reality is this: Islamists, especially Salafi-Jihadists like Al-Qaeda, actually hate Sufis. They view such people as heretics, and have not only been involved in persecuting & killing Sufis for hundreds of years but this has extended into the present day — whether it involves the Taliban demolishing Sufi shrines in Afghanistan or the escalating attacks on similar sites in Pakistan in recent years. There was a massacre in Lahore just a few months ago, as was heavily covered by the news media here in the West.

    Hostility towards Sufi Muslims who are actually forcefully opposed to the Islamists and everything they stand for (and whom the Islamists themselves violently hate) is the epitome of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. If anything untoward does eventually arise in terms of Cordoba House specifically, either in terms of the financial backers of the building or the message being promoted within it, at that point it should be investigated by the relevant authorities; and if any American laws are being broken, the people involved should be prosecuted. Unless and until that happens, ascribing all kinds of alleged nefarious motivations to the centre and its founders purely because it involves Muslims is grossly prejudiced and completely inexcusable. Anyone who has an accurate knowledge of global history will know where that kind of paranoid witch-hunting can ultimately lead.

    Even the name of the building is apparently offensive to some people (including Newt Gingrich), who have claimed that “Cordoba” doesn’t represent a period of dynamic open-minded intellectualism, peaceful coexistence, and (relatively) pluralistic multifaith tolerance in Spain during an era when such attitudes were comparatively rare in many parts of the world, including the rest of Europe, but represents “Islam’s greatest conquest in Europe”. If you’re going to take that particular blinkered line of thinking, you should also object to any buildings in America which have the name “Columbus” or indeed the names of numerous settlements across both North and South America which were named after Christian saints, considering the devastating impact which the arrival of European Christians had on the continent’s Native American population from 1492 onwards; leading modern historians such as David Reynolds, who has taught at Harvard and is currently Professor of International History at Cambridge University, have estimated that the total population of Native Americans in the whole of the Americas plummeted from 50 million to just 5 million during the period 1492-1650 alone. In any case, due to the controversy surrounding the issue, the name “Cordoba House” has now been dropped and the building will be called “Park51” after its street address instead, although for the purposes of this article I will refer to it by its former name in order to prevent any confusion.

    But since people have started harking back to historical events, let me provide a few appropriate precedents from Indian history, specifically in relation to Sikhs. One of these examples in particular has striking parallels with 9/11 and is also directly connected to Afghanistan. These events, the reactions of the people impacted by them, the lessons for our modern-day situation, and the potentially dangerous consequences of the “conservative Right’s” ongoing actions will be discussed in Part 2 of this article, which will follow shortly.

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    Filed in: Civil liberties,Current affairs,History,Muslim,Religion,Terrorism,United States

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    1. Kismet Hardy — on 19th August, 2010 at 8:56 pm  

      Jai for President

      Btw, I saw this programme boris johnson did about an ottoman/byzantine mosque that made a section specifically for christians. Can’t remember much else

    2. Sarah AB — on 19th August, 2010 at 9:44 pm  

      And here’s another favourable piece

    3. Desi Italiana — on 19th August, 2010 at 9:56 pm  

      I am going to launch a movement to prohibit any construction of Catholic churches in *any* vicinity of children, which means anywhere near homes, parks, schools, the WHOLE GAMUT cause there are some Catholic priests who are pedophiles! Yes! That’s right!

      Who’s with me?!

      And so on…LOL

    4. Desi Italiana — on 19th August, 2010 at 10:07 pm  

      What??????? No supporters for my move to prohibit Catholic church, i.e. houses of pedophilia, construction? But what about the would-be victims? What about the already victims’ sensitivities?!

      (NB: By NO MEANS am I trivializing the trauma and pain of *any* victims, whether of 9/11 or Catholic pedophilia. I am just drawing an analogy).

    5. dave bones — on 19th August, 2010 at 10:11 pm  

      Well done. I have been arguing this with my Republican buddies, this is good information all in one post. Cheers.

    6. Kismet Hardy — on 20th August, 2010 at 12:24 am  

      We should call for an immediate ban of all Hare Krishna institutions and devotees in fashion capitals such as Milan, Paris, New York and London. Orange is so last year

    7. Desi Italiana — on 20th August, 2010 at 12:30 am  

      “Orange is so last year”

      So are shikhas.

    8. Refresh — on 20th August, 2010 at 1:04 am  

      Well done Jai.

      Two areas rarely touched when discussing issues of this nature:

      its the defining battle for the soul of the US. And should that battle be lost to the bigotted right, what should the minorities in America do? Its abundantly clear, these forces become unstoppable once the feeding frenzy starts. And it should be noted that the main cheerleaders are either veterans of, or appear to look back to the death squad heroes of the Reagan era.

      Secondly, should these forces win out - what should the response be from the rest of the world? New Europe, old Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa? What sort of defences should they put up?

      Make no mistake its good old politics mixed in with a heavy dose of anglo-saxonary.

      And one thing is for certain, it is not about muslims. It just looks that way.

    9. shaz — on 20th August, 2010 at 1:31 am  

      Sarah AB
      “And here’s another favourable piece”

      Read the comments . The level of sheer anti-Muslim hatred at Harrys Place is astonishing.

    10. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells — on 20th August, 2010 at 2:49 am  

      Just listening to howard dean talk about this, it is, how you say, interesting, the language he uses.

      Those against the community centre apparently have ‘legitimate concerns’ and there should be an ‘honest debate’ about whether or not it should be moved/the developers should move it.

      The level of sheer anti-Muslim hatred at Harrys Place is astonishing.

      Not if you’ve read HP for any amount of time it isn’t.

    11. Sarah AB — on 20th August, 2010 at 7:13 am  

      shaz - just caught up with them. You should have left a comment!

    12. Badmash — on 20th August, 2010 at 10:45 am  

      Sufis or no Sufis, it would be interesting to note the knee-jerk reaction to mosques in Europe and America. Despite being a cuddly  Sufi, Imam Rauf was still accused of being an Islamist.

      And remember the anti-mosque hysteria in this country? It also raised it’s ugly head on these pages too. The “mega-mosque” in East London, the proposed Reading Mosque and the mosque that happened to be near Sanhurst, leaving Tory MP Patrick Mercer declaring that the proposed mosque would be a potential terror threat.

      All of this hysteria emanates from one mosque, the Finsbury Park mosque when it was controlled by throne eyed monster Abu Hamza. It caught international attention and has stuck ever since

      I remember one ignoramus soon after 7/7 declaring that all mosque were hotbeds of terrorism, I asked him to point one out, and all he could muster was the infamous Finsbury Park Mosque.

      Memories are short.

    13. Jai — on 20th August, 2010 at 3:40 pm  

      Thanks for your comments so far, everyone.


      This is a disturbing new article from the Washington Post about the increasing prevalence of poisonous anti-Muslim demagoguery from people like “Stop the Islamization of America” founder Pamela Geller and the author Robert Spencer (who also runs the website “JihadWatch”). It’s worth reading in full :

      The following quote by Robert Spencer pretty much says it all in terms of the grossly irresponsible mindset involved:

      Asked if he was being deliberately combative and provocative, Spencer chuckled.

      “Why not?” he asked. “It’s fun.”

    14. me — on 20th August, 2010 at 9:12 pm  

      A Brief History of Intolerance in America,29307,2011978_2179331,00.html

    15. soru — on 20th August, 2010 at 10:45 pm  

      The way people come to believe this kind of thing can seem strange, but the reasons behind it is actually pretty simple and straightforward. It’s explained here.

      The key point, stripped of the technical detail, is this:

      The premise of their whole system is that players will have the most fun if the ranking system can give matches as close to 50-50 as possible. Yeah it’s fun to have to have a few matches that are easy and some that are hard (and you will because of the inevitable variance), but you really do want the ranking system to try to give you close matches.

      So if you play badly, adopt a bad strategy, the system will use Bayesian mathematics to conjure, from the depths of the internet, players who are precisely correspondingly bad enough to give you an enjoyable game.

      You see that same principle of the 50% win rate in almost all non-comedy fictional TV shows and movies made since the 70s (when the standard works of Hollywood screen-writing were written, and courses started to be taught in it). In order to create an enjoyable sense of drama, foregrounded conflicts almost always have two opposing sides, equally balanced. If one has more resources, the other will be morally right. If there are two values or virtues involved, they always involve a trade off, nothing is ever both liberal and effective, good for him and good for her. Suspects either have the evidence stacked against them and are innocent, or vice versa. It’s as if some game design team had spent hours arguing over the numbers to try and get perfect balance.

      Any deviation from this formula gets ruthlessly panned as ‘cartoon’, ‘unrealistic’ or ‘didactic’. As if noone was ever both rude and stupid, or experienced and idealistic.

      This is why (until very recently), in movies torture always works. It’s pretty universally considered immoral, so in order to create a conflict it must not only work, but be the only thing that will. The contortions script makers will use to get to that point are pretty transparent once you start noticing them.

      The application of all this to politics is obvious.

      Come up with a proposal that goes against the whole cultural tradition and fundamental values of your nation, and your audience will automatically conjure up the set of facts necessary to make it seem like 50% of a good idea. Information contrary to this will simply not stick, be discarded as uninteresting.

      Few things are more sacred to Americans than freedom of religion. So, by the 50% rule, a place of worship that is a candidate for banning simply must have the characteristics that would start to justify banning it.

    16. Jai — on 22nd August, 2010 at 10:22 am  


      Come up with a proposal that goes against the whole cultural tradition and fundamental values of your nation, and your audience will automatically conjure up the set of facts necessary to make it seem like 50% of a good idea. Information contrary to this will simply not stick, be discarded as uninteresting.

      Few things are more sacred to Americans than freedom of religion. So, by the 50% rule, a place of worship that is a candidate for banning simply must have the characteristics that would start to justify banning it.

      Well said and absolutely spot-on.

    17. Jai (Update) — on 23rd August, 2010 at 1:12 pm  

      UPDATE: The first paragraph of the article now also includes the following video clips:

      1. Fareed Zakaria on his GPS show on CNN, summarising Sufism, its connection to Imam Rauf & Park51/Cordoba House, and the reasons for Al-Qaeda’s hatred of Sufis.

      2. Keith Olbermann on MSNBC arguing against the escalating anti-Muslim bigotry, the manufactured controversy of the “Ground Zero Mosque”, and the implications for the United States if these attitudes are allowed to continue unchallenged.

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