New York is not Córdoba a millennium later

By now it should be crystal clear to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Córdoba Initiative, that New York is not Córdoba one thousand years later, nor is the American nation an enlarged geopolitical version of the then caliphate of al-Andalus. Sadly, for anyone to think otherwise is a romantic notion, one that will not alter an iota America’s etched-in-stone Middle Eastern foreign policy, nor ameliorate the threat of terrorism which has been cancerously growing, principally in response to that policy.

Thoughtful people in America, many in positions of power and prestige – the good imam among them – feel that we may have missed the boat, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to show the world the uniqueness of this nation as proclaimed by the motto in its seal: E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one; that ours is a pluralistic society which recognizes and respects others’ beliefs and practices; that we revere civic tolerance. The occasion: a high-profile public debate brought about by the prospect of having a cultural center and mosque built close to where the Twin Towers (World Trade Center) stood in New York… symbolically, and somewhat jingoistically, referred to as “ground zero.”

My question: why do these good people think that our combined nature should have dictated a different outcome to the high controversy that has ensued, often defamatory and almost always wrong when passing judgment on the culture(s) and religion of over one billion people? Apparently the answer rests in that we tend to think in mystical, not rational terms… and at this stage it is rather easy for those who seek to attain power or “a following,” to do so via hate and ignorance – the likes of Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Franklin Graham and a host of others in American public life – to benefit from this manna raining from the media that could help them achieve their personal, political or religious goals. The unfortunate reality helping these incubators of hate rests in the way we in the United States have permitted, directly or by default, the creation of an original sin for all Muslims which taints them with the collective responsibility for 9/11; each and every Muslim, without the chance of a messiah to redeem them from this sin.

I don’t recall anything close to this ugly controversy in my lifetime, which spans over two generations. A controversy that might have been easily put to rest by the press, had it chosen to do so, by giving a better exposure of Imam Rauf’s lofty intentions of bringing dialogue and much needed understanding across cultures and faiths. There should not have been any guessing by the press since the imam’s activist life has been a constant attempt to build bridges between the Muslim world and the West. Only the despicable, and unconstitutional, placement in concentration camps of Japanese-Americans seven decades ago bears comparison to what is happening in America today, reflected in this debate; something that is turning out to be a contentious struggle unlikely to end soon.

This “ground zero mosque” pseudo-debate is becoming one of the key issues in this election cycle coming up in November. Politicians, Christian ministers and media commentators – some posing as journalists – are having a field day with this topic. What is extremely interesting, however, is the fact that the most ardent defense of Muslim rights and the Constitution comes from their Semite brothers, the Jews. From Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, to Jon Stewart, comic-satirist, to prominent rabbis and influential politicians, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf finds heartfelt support.

There are some American Muslims who cling to the idea that Muslims are facing the same difficult obstacle course that others (Southern Europeans, Jews and Asians) had to face years before in order to be integrated into Mainstream America. But more than an idea I feel that theirs is a hope; a distant hope that will start to fade as their power, usually associated with wealth and/or number of people espousing the same faith or ethnicity, remains low and American bigotry remains high. Jews’ status and acceptance in America did not grow because of their numbers, but rather because of the power they attained as they proved to excel in just about every field… to the point of redefining to some degree what America has become culturally, economically and politically. Brown people, in this case because of their numbers, are just now starting to claim a higher share of that power. But Muslim Americans, lacking numbers or influence, have a more difficult road to travel.

Córdoba is a place in time where Muslims, Jews and Christians worked together for the enrichment of humanity… where the genius of a Muslim, Ibn Rushd (Averroes) – master of exact sciences, medicine, geography, philosophy, theology and law – met with the genius of a contemporary Jew, Moses Maimonides (Rambam) – master of Jewish law, ethics and philosophy. Both of these great scholars were readers and interpreters of Aristotle… influencing with their writings one century later the thought and philosophy of one of the Fathers of the Christian Church, Thomas Aquinas. The imam could not have chosen a more apropos name for an effort to bridge cultures and faiths. Yet, of the millions engaged in this pseudo-debate only a few have a clue as to what the imam had in mind… and for that incredible level of ignorance we have only to thank the American corporate media.