Writing helps me process.
So I'm here writing about the proposed Cordoba initiative (Islamic cultural and community center planned for downtown New York commonly referred to as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’) to help me sift through the huge amounts of information and focus my own thoughts on the issues. I've put into bold italics here those questions that my research has caused me to ask myself. I don't know that I have anything new or more to add to the discussion, but I am interested to hear your thoughts. Because, although I have access to plenty of people's thoughts on this issue, I haven't heard most of yours.
First off, if you click over to the Cordoba initiative website you will read right up front that the "Cordoba initiative seeks to actively promote engagement through a myriad of programs, by reinforcing similarities and addressing differences". That sounds good to me.
On the site there's a link to commonly asked questions and, after a bit of looking I found their answer to the first question on my mind - why build a Mosque so close to the location of ground zero? Their answer:
"Strictly speaking, it will not be a “mosque,” although it would have a prayer space on one of its 15 floors. At the beginning, no one considered the fact that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf Abdul Rauf’s current mosque is 12 blocks from the Ground Zero site, while the Park51 Community Center location is only 2 and one-half blocks away. We never discussed wanting to be close to Ground Zero; our goal was to find a good real estate opportunity for a community center. 51 Park seemed to fit the bill."
"We were always close to the World Trade Center. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been the Imam of a mosque twelve blocks from the Twin Towers for the last 27 years. American Muslims have been peacefully living, working and worshipping in this neighborhood all along and were also terribly affected by the horrific events of 9/11. We wanted to build a community center in our old neighborhood, and the Park51 location became available. (In our part of lower Manhattan, it’s hard not to be close to Ground Zero)."
So, I find myself sincerely asking these questions:
Could this group really have been so oblivious of the location and the of the site's proximity to Ground Zero and the emotions this would evoke?
Was this location for building for "Muslim New Yorkers something similar to a YMCA" chosen simply because of real estate availability?
Let's say that the location was chosen simply due to availability of real estate, doe this make the fact that the Islamic Community center will over look Ground Zero irrelevant?
If the goal of this center is indeed to "promote engagement" and bridge differences, would it be much wiser to wait for availability of real estate that will not cause so much pain for many, and appear to many to be rubbing salt in the wound?
Danielle Parker wrote a moving article espousing her views on the pain the location engenders that you can read on the Huffington Post September 9 edition. Her article expresses what she thinks the Mosque means from both the victims and a historical perspective. From a victims perspective Parker thinks that the location of the Mosque is akin to rubbing salt into the victims wound; she says that many suffer from PTSD, and as such, visual reminders trigger painful emotions. Parkers sees the location of the proposed Mosque as a visual reminder. As I read this I did have to ask if the Ground Zero memorials are also a visual reminder and do those trigger PTSD emotions? Or is that different because it's showing remembrance in a positive light? Historically, she believes that the Mosque in Cordoba Spain signified the Islamic supremacy over the Christians in the conquest of this territory.
Robert Sharp (this is not the Independent Features writer Robert Sharp. This man is a Campaigns manager at English PEN and writes for several political blogs ) wrote an article in defense of the Mosque that you can check out here. He believes that although the proposed Islamic Community Center is near Ground Zero it is not on it and that there already exist many Mosques in the downtown area so he doesn't see why all the fuss. He says:
"This controversy has clearly been manufactured by those who seek to polarise American political debate. It is depressing and astonishing that the arguments against the centre have gained any traction at all. One might expect this in Europe, with its muddled and inconsistent relationship with secular ideals. Or in theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran, with their blanket intolerance of other faiths. But for a country which explicitly enshrines human rights such as free expression and freedom of religion in its constitution, it is bizarre that the debate has advanced so far. "
Perhaps one of the most interesting articles I've read on this issue was an article from The Economist August 19 that looked at Arab reactions to the Cordoba Mosque. These ranged from those who thought this entire debate just underscores "rising Islamophobia" in America, to those who think that in the face of so much public resentment, it might be better to build the mosque elsewhere.
Another question on my mind that the Cordoba initiative website addresses is - why the name Cordoba? The site states: "The name Cordoba was chosen carefully to reflect a period of time during which Islam played a monumental role in the enrichment of human civilization and knowledge".
Since my history knowledge is admittedly lacking, I did some research into Cordoba. Wikipedia is frequently a nice starting point, and there I learned that Cordoba is a large mosque in Spain that was built on the site of a conquered Visogothic church. It's really interesting when you think about it because the Visogoths were a member of the western group of Goths who sacked Rome and created a kingdom in present-day Spain, and then we see the Umayyad Moores conquering them and taking over their church and making it a Mosque. Currently the Cordoba mosque is a well known sight seeing attraction attraction and is considered one of the World’s most unique monuments and a masterpiece in Islamic art.
So, I ask myself:
Was the name Cordoba chosen because it's one of the most well known and beautiful existing examples of Islamic art and religion, or because it's the site of a conquered Christian church?
Am I paranoid for even asking this question?
I tend to think that questions are OK, it's assumptions that cause problems.
But, as I mention above, I'd like to hear your thoughts in reference to the bold and italic questions that I'm asking myself. I welcome your insights and the fact that you'll help me clarify my own thoughts.