My colleague C.K. MacLeod does know how to set the cat amongst the pigeons. He’s getting a lot of pushback today for his HotAir piece, “Fight Them All Together,” about conservatives and the proposed mosque at Ground Zero. I do think he implies a question that can (and should) be treated seriously, about what our concepts of freedom and tolerance mean to us, and where the line is between being tolerant and being weak or clueless.
I myself would choose to discuss that question without suggesting that conservatives, in particular, have failed embarrassingly to recognize its validity. Some have presented their conclusions on the matter without taking us through the whole argument, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t thought it through.
On the question of the mosque itself, however, I don’t think any treatment of the topic can be complete without reference to the meaning behind the name of the “initiative” that intends to establish it – the Cordoba Initiative – or to the plan to name the mosque Cordoba House. My first question on hearing this a couple of weeks ago was whether Americans are completely ignorant of history.
Cordoba was, of course, the seat of the caliphate established in what is now modern Spain after the Islamic invasion from North Africa in the 8th century A.D. The medieval occupation of Spain – “al-Andalus” – is considered by Islamic theorists to have been an inevitable step in the manifest destiny of Islam, and its eventual reversal through the lengthy European “Reconquista” a tragic but temporary triumph of the infidels. The great mosque at Cordoba was built on the foundation of a Christian cathedral, and when Europeans retook Cordoba in the 13th century they turned the magnificent mosque back into a cathedral.
There is no question that the opulence and beauty of the mosque were the products of Muslim builders and artists. But there is also no question that the mosque at Cordoba represents a history of conquest and reconquest that, from the perspective of Islamists, is at an unfinished stage as of today. The caliphate of Cordoba was the geographic high point of Umayyad Muslim rule – that is, of the original caliphate that succeeded Mohammed – on European territory. It represents a glory that Islamists intend to restore. Its eventual loss to the Europeans represents, equally, an evil reversal, imposed by infidels, that requires redress.
“Cordoba,” in Islamic symbolic terms, means Islamic rule in the West. It does not mean “coexistence,” unless coexistence is interpreted as referring to Islamic rule. Pamela Geller at Atlas Shrugs cites the article (original in Arabic) published by Iraqi-American Khudhayr Taher on 18 May, in which Taher explains the following:
We must note that a hostile and provocative name [Cordoba] has been chosen for this mosque…Choosing the name ‘Cordoba House’ for the mosque to be constructed in New York was not coincidental or random and innocent. It bears within it significance and dreams of expansion and invasion [into the territory] of the other, [while] striving to change his religion and to subjugate him…
It used to not even be a stretch for reasonably well educated Westerners to recognize the place of Spain and Cordoba in the history of the West and Islam. Many of today’s younger adults, however, have learned nothing about the Mediterranean before 1492 except that the Muslim period in Spain was a flowering of science, art, and culture. There was a great deal to admire in the accomplishments of the Muslim Cordobans, but they did, in fact, invade and conquer Spain, sell its inhabitants into slavery, provide a base for slaver raids into other parts of Europe, and rule by the sword in much of the caliphate.
“Cordoba” is not a name that evokes peaceful coexistence of Islam and the West. Perhaps a contest should be held to come up with a name that does; I don’t know that I can think of one offhand. That shouldn’t surprise us. Our own lifetimes all began less than a century on from the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the entity that shifted over the centuries of its existence from fighting against Europe to buffering it from the restive tribes and sheikdoms in its hinterland. Most of us today don’t have much of a cultural memory of Islamic invasion; the peoples of Southeast Europe would be the exception. But the rest of us have grown so accustomed to the absolute character of the Pax Americana that we tend to dismiss, out of our privileged disconnectedness from history, the implications that the peoples of other times and places would have recognized – with greater wisdom – as meaningful.
A mosque at Ground Zero is something intelligent people can dispute honestly and in good faith. But honesty is essential, and it would be dishonest to dismiss the implications of proposing to name it Cordoba House. Let’s propose naming it instead Tours House, after the Battle of Tours and the defeat of the Umayyad Muslim forces there in 732; or Lepanto House, after the naval battle in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1571, in which the Western forces broke the maritime power of the Ottoman Empire; or Vienna House, after the battle of 1683 in which the Western armies broke the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman invaders.
Heck, let’s tell the mosque’s backers they can have a mosque there but its name will be Baghdad Bob House. If these seem like bad ideas because they send the wrong signal – well, exactly. So does “Cordoba House.” We should not passively accept that name out of fear of being ridiculed or second-guessed, any more than we should accept a mosque at all for such a reason.
The building of mosques in America does raise more and more civic questions for us, as the evidence mounts that some of them are centers for cultivating jihadism and facilitating the logistic end of terrorism. But that’s not because conservatives are hidebound and reactionary in their thinking, it’s because of what goes on in the mosques. It’s a legitimate question, what form our affirmation that most Muslims are not Islamist radicals needs to take. And it’s legitimate as well to argue that it need not take the form of agreeing to a prominent mosque at Ground Zero named Cordoba House.
Cross-posted at Hot Air.