Cordoba: Trio of Cosmopolitan
This aerial photo of April 20, 2010, shows the New York city block, lower right, where a 13-story mosque is planned for construction two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, center left.
By: Mehrunisa Qayyum
- I. Shifting the Focus
Tweets jumpstart debates and inform the masses. However, townhalls achieve the same goals, albeit slowly, but allow a dialogue to engage opposing viewpoints. I do not mean to downplay the tremendous good that Twitter facilitates, but when a few people purport to represent Americans in 140 characters, with spelling errors, perhaps it is time to speak and LISTEN face to face, as I learned in my community’s townhall in a regular suburban setting. Unfortunately, self-proclaimed conservatives and liberals debate the meaning of constructing a mosque on Ground Zero, which represents only a facet of the Cordoba Initiative to rebuild a community. In this particular case, Ground Zero might symbolize rebuilding a global community.
The debate crudely divides the American state of mind into two camps—almost similar to another divide circa 2001. The first camp includes the self-proclaimed “Conservatives” who protest the initiative because the mosque represents a link to the high-jackers, who were terrorists and called themselves Muslim, or b) “Liberals” who support the initiative because the mosque reflects a bridge-building effort between the West and Muslims. However, many of us, myself included, fall somewhere inbetween these two extremes. I am constantly reminded of President Obama’s Inaugural reminder, “There’s not a liberal American and conservative America; there’s the United States of America….There’s not a black America or White America…there’s the United States of America…” We wish to explore more avenues of bridge-building while upholding the American spirit of diversity and progress. Why not emulate the real spirit of Cordoba, through the proposal, and build a church and a synagogue to physically and spiritually demonstrate that many bridges bring more Americans together
- II. Trio of Cosmo: Showing a New POV
A trio of cosmo is a city that prides itself with churches, mosques, and synagogues. A trio of cosmo translates into tolerant, interfaith oriented, or embracing diversity. Flashback to the Middle Ages in the Iberian peninsula to a city called Cordoba—a city that screamed COSMOPOLITAN. The various houses of worship characterized the city as architecturally rich, artistically blessed, and civically engaged. Cordoba boasted the largest population of Europe during the Middle Ages. Also known as Cordova, this diverse city served as the capital of the Iberian empire, Andalucia. Therefore, as a history aficionado, I can see how the Cordoba Initiative got its inspiration to propose a set of facilities near Ground Zero that is open to all Americans.
Now flashforward to 2010, spin the globe and point to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world: New York City. However, this symbol of cosmopolitan suffered a terrible trauma inflicted by 19 individuals and unhinged elements who intended harm under the pretext of Islam. Two blocks north of Ground Zero encompasses the intangible memories of the World Trade Center Towers. Currently, the Cordoba Initiative presents an opportunity to rebuild— I would like to expound upon their proposal: perhaps, build a more powerful and inclusive symbol that represents a trio of practicing faiths. Right about now, I can hear Mark Williams and Sarah Palin cry out “By facilities, this means a mosque on Ground Zero!”
- III. Respectfully Refute the Opposition: 4 Concerns
We are not finished with grieving. Opposition to the Cordoba Initiative is not solely based on grief. Rather, there is a mix of fear in paying tribute to extremist elements as well as those who fear Islam, or “Islamaphobia”. The latter fear argues that construction diminishes the American healing process. The Cordoba Initiative (CI) supporters argue that building a set of publicly accessible facilities represents a step towards healing. To be fair, I would like to put aside the terms “conservative” and “liberal” and simply explore each of the concerns raised by Americans and address them point by point.
- The first concern: building the mosque alienates Americans because the high-jackers’ supporters will see the construction as a victory. Leaders in both the interfaith and political communities disagree. Firstly this platform focuses on the mosque and ignores that the initiative includes: 1) a Performing Arts Center, 2) a gym, and 3) a childcare facility. Secondly, the platform overstates the Cordoba Initiative’s proposal as solely “Muslim”. The mission of CI is to build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans. (I could take issue with the assumptions behind the mantra of “Muslim-West relations”—as if American-Muslims born in the U.S. must pick a side in a bipolar debate—but that is another discussion I would like to examine in the future.) In fact, the facilities will be open to all in the public, and has received praised from the interfaith community—such as by Sojourners, a Christian publication, as well as by Journal of Inter Religious Dialogue, co-edited by Joshua M. Z. Stanton, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in New York City.
Thirdly, on a secular note, New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, publicly stated, “If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t.”  Furthermore, the house of worship is not exclusive to Muslims. In this vein, on May 25th, the Manhattan Community Planning Board voted 19 to 1 to approve the construction on Ground Zero.
- The second concern: Americans are still grieving. While the Tribute of Light shines from Ground Zero, we are all still waiting for the completed Memorial. I do not doubt that Americans are still grieving. Non-Americans, both non-Muslim and Muslim, are still grieving as well. In particularly, of the 2,995 claimed dead, a portion of them came from 14 other countries.
- The third concern: it’s a slap in the face of 9/11 victims’ families. The claim presupposes that all of the 9/11 victims’ families blame the Muslim world (about 20 billion people) for what happened. New York paramedic, Marvin Bethea, lost 16 friends on 9/11 and added that, “But Muslims also got killed on 9/11. It would be a good sign of faith that we’re not condemning all Muslims and that the Muslims who did this happened to be extremists. As a black man, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against when you haven’t done anything. We’re not condemning all Muslims, and that those Muslims who did this, happened to be terrorists.” I invite anyone to engage in a thought experiment. On December 25, 1984, an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida was bombed by 4 individuals claiming the act was “”a gift to Jesus on his birthday.” Hence, should we propose to eliminate all churches within a certain radii built near bombed abortion clinics because it just so happened that those who bombed abortion clinics happened to represent a minority in the far-right of Christian faith?
- The fourth concern: Ground Zero has been overtaken by Muslim interests. The interest is to build a community that includes all New Yorkers. I can see how the proposal can be enhanced. Cordoba’s Initiative is not asking our fellow citizens to forgive the high-jackers or put grief on hold. Rather, the proposal humbly requests Americans not to allow the terrorists to also high-jack our symbols of community buildings via community building.
- IV. Appealing to Self-Interests: Extend an Emotional Hug
I’ve walked through the logic of the proposal. However, emotion has its place in reconciling challenges. In extending my emotional hug to other Americans, I appeal to the Cordoba Initiative. Again, a city that prides itself with churches, synagogues, and mosques is reminiscent of Cordoba. It is symbolic of an American state of mind. It is also a picture of reality in many cities like San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Toledo (e.g. named after another Andalucian city in modern Spain), St. Louis, Philadelphia, and even small towns, across the U S of A—like Dothan, Alabama. For those that are still caught in the proverbial “middle” and refuse to be type-casted as “Liberal” or “Conservative”, I will share what I suggested as an alternative at my townhall last week: How about a compromise?
- Conserve our values of Perseverance & Tolerance.
- Liberate ourselves from our prejudices and others’ hurtful actions.
Therefore, I would love to see the Cordoba Initiative recreate a trio of cosmo: include a church and synagogue within its construction; it could serve as a symbol to other countries struggling to embrace its diversity.
MEHRUNISA QAYYUM, a Government Relations Consultant. Qayyum holds a BA from the University of Chicago in Public Policy/Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations as well as an MPP (the MBA for “Do-Gooders”) from Georgetown Univeristy.
 President Barack Obama’s speech as a candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois delivered the 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 27th, 2004. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19751-2004Jul27.html http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/barackobam375643.html, accessed July 30, 2010.
 For more in-depth history of this diverse period in Spain, three documentaries provide great perspective. Please see: 1) “Out of Cordoba”, by Jacob Bender, and presented at the Human Rights Art Festival; 2) “Cities of Light: The Rise & Fall of Islamic Spain” by Unity Productions and presented on PBS; and 3) “Muslim Spain” by Zahir Ahmed. http://www.islamicspain.tv/
 Tweeted by Sarah Palin on July 18th, 2010: “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”
 There were 10 abstentions.
 The Crescent p. 1, July 2010
 Churchville, Victoria (6 January 1985) “Bomb Suspects Cite Religious Motive” The Washington Post p. A-16