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Why Cordoba?

The Ground Zero Islamic center was named for a period in Spanish-Muslim history that some call a golden age of tolerance

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Córdoba, Spain. (Wikimedia)

Amid the debate over the Islamic center slated to be built two blocks from Ground Zero, few have stopped to consider the project’s name. Though it is now to be called Park51—a reference to its address, 45-51 Park Place—its initial name was Cordoba House, and the nonprofit behind it remains the Cordoba Initiative. It’s a reference to the city of Córdoba. But what does southern Spain have to do with southern Manhattan?

Córdoba was the capital of the Islamic caliphate that controlled the Iberian peninsula during the Middle Ages. Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who runs the Cordoba Initiative with his wife, named his project “after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain, and its name reminds us that Muslims created what was, in its era, the most enlightened, pluralistic, and tolerant society on earth,” he wrote in his 2004 book What’s Right With Islam. Rauf is seeking to align himself with those who see the period as the “Golden Age of Spain,” or what’s called the convivencia—“the coexistence”—when members of the three Abrahamic faiths lived side-by-side in peace, prosperity, and astonishing cultural and intellectual creativity.

For almost two centuries, though, as many Jewish scholars have described medieval Spain as atrocious for its Jews as have seen it as a sort of utopia. The latest to call the utopians’ bluff is essayist Hillel Halkin, in his 2010 Nextbook Press biography of the period’s greatest Jewish poet, Yehuda Halevi. “The higher Jews did rise,” Halkin writes of the time and place, “the more they aroused the anger and resentment of the Muslim or Christian majority, and the more vulnerable they became. The culture of tolerance stretched only so far.” Muslims, Christians, and Jews in medieval Spain “kept socially to themselves,” according to Halkin, “never intermarried, were convinced of the superiority of their own faith, and shared no common identity.” As for the intimations of some that the period was an ancestor of our contemporary multicultural West? “Such an analogy,” Halkin concludes, “is misleading.”

The debate over what Spain was like for its Jews 900 years ago has rarely been purely academic. Rather, over the past two centuries, Jewish historians have frequently seen in the period things they needed to see in order to make arguments about contemporary circumstances. If coexistence in Christian- and Muslim-ruled Spain was possible even in the 11th century, some have argued, then why do Jews today need a state in which they are the ones in charge—why, rather, shouldn’t the states in which they already reside welcome them as fully equal citizens? And if, on the other hand, even the convivencia—supposedly history’s most brightly shining beacon of multifaith tolerance—was a myth, then how could the Jews do without a state in which they are the ones in charge? The battle over medieval Spain is, to many, a battle over Zionism, and over what it means to be a Jew today.


According to Princeton historian Mark Cohen, the notion of convivencia, of medieval Spain as utopia, began with mid-19th century German-Jewish historians. Disappointed to find that emancipation did not equal equality, they crafted a long-ago world of true Jewish freedom as the model that their own world failed to live up to. “They looked back nostalgically to Muslim Spain, and said, ‘Look there,’ ” Cohen told me. “They wanted to embarrass the Christians.” They were not demanding a state of their own; on the contrary, they were demanding the right to live freely in another people’s state and, moreover, to be considered members of that people.

A subsequent batch of historians, under the spell of early-20th-century Zionism, cast medieval Spain not as a utopia but as, according to Cohen, “an unmitigated disaster.” They did so in order to argue that “Arab anti-Semitism is firmly rooted in a congenital, endemic Muslim/Arab Jew-hatred,” which in turn buttressed their case for a country of, by, and for the Jewish people.

So, which of those versions is right? Neither, Cohen said. In one essay, he refers to a “myth” (the German historians’ heaven) and a “counter-myth” (the Zionist historians’ hell) and asserts that the truth lies somewhere in between. Those who hold up the period as an ideal are exaggerating: “In a medieval situation,” he argues, “where you have monotheistic religions living in proximity, there is no such thing as toleration.” (In other words, tell “toleration” to the Jews of Granada, many of whom were massacred by angry Muslims in 1066, or to Granada’s Jewish vizier at the time, who was crucified.) And those who downplay the extent of tolerance and pluralism exaggerate, too. “If by convivencia,” said Cornell historian Ross Brann, “we mean that cultural and social proximity, conversation, and interaction among Jews, Muslims, and Christians were significant and productive,” then convivencia was real.

Despite the rise of this compromise position, some historians continue to push versions of the two more extreme visions of the period. The most prominent contemporary member of what might be termed the “utopian” school is Yale humanities professor María Rosa Menocal. And the historian to most recently advance the “counter-myth”—to posit that medieval Spain was largely hellish for its Jews—is Halkin.


Though Yehuda Halevi is wide-ranging (it spends a great deal of time, for example, on Halevi’s poetry, which Halkin translated), its central thesis is this: The defining moment of Halevi’s life was his decision to leave Spain for the Holy Land—a decision he made after realizing that a Jew could not freely and fully be a Jew in the Spain of his lifetime (roughly 1070 to 1140). “Halevi understood,” Halkin argues, “that Gentile oppression was the inevitable result of exilic existence.” It was an inevitable result nine centuries ago, and—to hear Halkin tell it—it remains an inevitable result today. And just as aliyah was the solution to the oppressiveness of exilic existence nine centuries ago, so it remains, according to Halkin, the solution today.

Yehuda Halevi is really a dual biography: a biography and an autobiography. “Like Yehuda Halevi,” writes Halkin, who moved from the United States to Israel in 1970, “I grew up with convivencia. It was just that the con didn’t go with the vivencia. Like wrong pieces of a puzzle, the two sides of me refused to fit together. The Jew and the American were barely on speaking terms.” The central moment in Halkin’s own life was when he chose to make aliyah, much as Halevi had done.

Halkin needs convivencia to have been a myth, and to be replaceable with a world in which the Granada pogrom was merely the most extreme example of a general trend, because Zionism—specifically, the strand of Zionism that states that Jews must rule themselves and have the ability to defend themselves—is a second-order value for him. For this reason, he attacks Menocal, the Yale professor and ultimate Golden Age-ist, in his book. In his interview with me, he asserted that medieval Spain has been “greatly idealized” and that Menocal and others, “in holding it up as some kind of human ideal of coexistence, are involved in a distortion of history.”

(Brann, of Cornell, disputes Halkin’s characterization. “Menocal only asserts that this period of cultural creativity featured abundant social and economic interaction,” he told me. And Cohen accused Halkin of projecting his polemical method onto Menocal; he insists that she is an academic historian seeking the objective truth rather than a debater trying to make a point. Menocal declined to comment for this article, instead referring me to Brann and Cohen.)


The professors I spoke to—who all offered various praises of Yehuda Halevi—supplied the same general critique: Halkin is a talented writer; he knows his stuff; but he is not an academic. More to the point, he does not possess the academic’s relentlessly single-minded focus on determining what actually happened. Rather, he allows his historical descriptions to be influenced by his ideological beliefs—”He’s very political,” said Raymond P. Scheindlin, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, “and has very strong opinions about the role of the Jewish people in the world.” (See Scheindlin and Halkin discussing Halevi earlier this year.)

Halkin can snipe as good as he is sniped at. “Academics are in the habit of deconstructing everyone but themselves,” he told me. Additionally, he is merely the latest in a two-century-old line of Jewish historians who have deployed preferred versions of medieval Spain in arguments about the present day. “I suppose you could say,” he admitted, “that the book was written all along with what I openly profess to having: A Zionist bias.” He added, “My Halevi is very much a Zionist, or a proto-Zionist. I approached the subject with that sense, and I came away with it only strengthened.”

Imam Rauf, the man behind the Cordoba Initiative, appears to be doing much the same thing as Halkin: using his view of what Spain used to be to advance his idea for what the world ought to be today. (Rauf is traveling and did not reply to requests for comment.) “We strive for a ‘New Cordoba,’ a time when Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all other faith traditions will live together in peace, enjoying a renewed vision of what the good society can look like,” he writes in the introduction to his 2004 book.

I asked Halkin what he thought of the Cordoba Initiative’s name. “It’s obvious what Cordoba stands for,” he replied. “Whether the real Cordoba was what Cordoba stands for is another question. But there’s nothing terribly wrong with it.”

So, maybe the solution is just to move beyond symbols? “We’re all basically defending our choices and lives and honors,” Halkin told me. “My Halevi is a defense of the choices I’ve made.”

“I’m willing to put Halevi aside and just say it,” he added.

Additional reporting by Mark Bergen.

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HaSoferet says:

Historians will continue to debate the place of Jews and Christians in the Cordoba caliphate, but I believe the key thing for us to realize is that by naming this project the Cordoba Initiative what they hope for is a golden age UNDER MUSLIM RULE. Unfortunately the name and the location of this mosque/cultural center reveals their intent.

I choose to reject rule by anyone’s religion, even my own.

asherZ says:

Bernard Lewis in his book The Jews in Islam writes,
“The claim to tolerance, now much heard from Muslim apologists and more especially from apologists for Islam, is also new and of alien origin. It is only very recently that some defenders of Islam have begun to assert that their society in the past accorded equal status to non-Muslims. No such claim is made by spokesmen for resurgent Islam, and historically there is no doubt that they are right. Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who willfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity.”

I’ll take Lewis’ scholorship over the view Tracy presents in this piece.

Isabella Overington says:

I am totally against a mosque being built near ground zero because it would be like putting a cross at Auschwitz. However, Spain really was very tolerant of Jews back in the day, although a long time ago now.

You need only to look at someone in South Florida today ,who is Jewish, or even part Jewish Sephardic, and some cashier in Publix will be talking to me in Spanish! happens all the time to me. The Mediterranean origin is still alive and there in many of us.

Isabella Overington.

People that idealize the coexistence of the three religions in Spain, often don’t know anything about real life in Spain at the time. Every Spanish stone was stained by blood dropped for religious reasons. Between different Christian streams, between different Arabic streams. Between Muslim and Christians. By Muslims and Christians persecuting Jews.
We don’t have any historical reference of Jews leading wars or battles in Spain. They lent money to the warriors, sometimes under pressure and under threats to their life and family, but they never lead or began a war.
Cordoba was also the city that Maimonides fled, because fear of his life, when he was forced to convert to Islam.

Mr Tracy, you would do well to remark that while the published english language title of Rauf’s book was indeed “What’s Right With Islam”, in other languages in muslmi lands it’s correct title is ” “The Call From the WTC Rubble: Islamic Da’wah From the Heart of America Post-9/11.”

And Dawa .. Da‘wah is to invite people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to understand the worship of Allah as expressed in the Qur’ān and the sunnah of the prophet, as well as to inform them about Muhammad.

As for that, what could be more authentic than the treatment of the jews by the prime example of Mohammed, as exemplified by the Banu Qurayzah and at Khaybar they chanted in the Gaza flotilla – ‘Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews! The army of Mohammed will return!’

As far as ‘Cordoba’… Maimonedes must have left the caliphate for SOME reason. Perhaps that reason should be mentioned somewhere.

For another take on the same subject – the relevance of 10th century Cordoba to 21st century NYC — see today’s Re-Think the Middle East blog post at

“I’ll take Lewis’ scholorship over the view Tracy presents in this piece.”

Here, here!!!

From Re-think the ME:

New York City Mosque: Part II, Cordoba

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!
As we have seen, the suggestion of Cordoba as a relevant religious-diversity prototype for New York City raises questions of historical accuracy and acceptable majority-minority relations. In looking for examplars, we might do better to reverse”

HaSoferet says:

“Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews.”

Nor to atheists, whom everyone omits from these discussions.

Raed Kami says:

It should be called the Yarmuk Mosque, after the famed victory of Khalid ibn al Walid over the Byzantines

HaSoferet says:

No doubt you mean the battle that took place on what is now known as the Golan Heights.

Both sides to this argument are probably right – there must have been periods of serenity as well as periods of oppression in medieval Spain. As a European Jew who has lived for a few years in Egypt, I can state that on a personal level relations were friendly and during the reigns of Kings Fuad and Faruk, a representative of the State attended the main services on high holidays, whereas after the military coup of 1952, the State acted in a very oppressive manner to the Jews. Certainly nothing was seen in Arab lands to compare the the Nazi horrors. Having said all that, it is capital for Jews to have a State to emigrate to if they feel oppressed in the country of their birth. Long Live Israel.

I think one of the best academic treatments of the subject is “Farewell Espana,” Howard Sachar’s take on convivencia, the events of 1492, and the subsequent effects on the Jews who fled (and who remained!) Sachar does well to extensively document that which Jews *were* able to achieve under Muslim rule – culturally, scientifically, and politically – and it’s mind-blowing. In contrast to the experiences of their counterparts in Italy, the Middle East, etc., Spanish Jews appear to have done relatively well for themselves, notwithstanding the obvious oppression that accompanied dhimmi status.

Arguments for convivencia as paradise are hyperbolic, and it doesn’t seem that anyone is actually advancing them. Dismissing anyone who examines the period and finds a glimmer of tolerance (even if it was politically advantageous for those in power) is just silly.

Even if using “Cordoba” to evoke a sense of untroubled peace is somewhat ahistorical, I can understand the imam’s intent. It’s a sort of rebranding! For my money, I think Park 51 is a fine name – perhaps more suitable for a trendy fusion restaurant, but neutral enough! Sixth and I Synagogue in DC has a similarly inoffensive name, but it’s allowed them to become a neutral space (see: the AMAZING annual MLK Shabbat, complete with gospel choir!).

David Star says:

The choice of “Cordoba” as the name for the mosque has less to do with tolerance or acceptance and more to do with crowing.
The Spanish Cordoba was the farthest western point of Muslim subjugation of the Infidel untill 9/11. Islam has no room for tolerance of the non believer. The deliberate defiance and contempt is swallowed whole by those in the US who understand the beauty of the Constitution and thus open themselves to the principle of “Taqiya” established by Mohammed, the right to lie to an enemy in order to kill him.

Chloe Bornstein says:

no matter what it would be named, i believe this would be the ultimate insult. thousands of people died there. i don’t think it’s right to let anyone make a mockery of that event which changed our country and all of our lives forever. i am no one. not a historian, not a scholar. don’t know alot about stuff like all the people who have written comments here. my heart goes out to the people who lost their lives that day . it happened here at home, in america. all the families and friends suffered the ultimate loss. i think the area should be a memorial to those who died there . lest we forget. it is an effrontery to us all.

tlsparkman says:

Would everyone please read Andrew McCarthy’s book: The Grand Jihad. Unless McCarthy is completely lacking in credibility (and of course he isn’t), and the research and facts he presents are a fraud, then this intellectual discussion on the merits of Islam, the golden age, and the Cordoba mosque is a mute issue. Regardless of the interpretation of history as anyone chooses to interpret it, the very real danger for this country TODAY, is that the single minded fundamental purpose of Islam, and clearly its goal, is to establish Sharia law and abolish individual liberty and our constitution. No matter how “warm and fuzzy” any Immam sounds, you can count on two things: 1) the goal of Shariah law is always the goal, no matter what he says, and 2) you can not… NOT… trust what he says. Lying is not only permitted, it is his (Immam) duty to do so for the purpose of deceiving his perceived enemy in the advancement of Islam. America… wake up!!!!

HaSoferet says:

Well nobody has been “mute” on this issue, but I think you mean the point is moot.

tlsparkman says:

How embarrassing. Thank you. I checked my computer to make sure, but while it has “spell-check”, it apparently doesn’t have “ignorance-check”.

lovelyisraelis says:

Andrew McCarthy.

Oh for God’s sake, are you serious?

He actually took enough time away from barking at the moon and frantically searching for Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate to write a book?!?

I can hardly wait!

Sam Stein says:

God, the anti-Islamic sentiment in these comments, and all over the web right now, makes me just want to throw up. If Cordoba doesn’t represent the golden age of cohabitation, then these narrow minded views don’t either. Grow up! We live in a multicultural world. Muslims aren’t going away, so spewing hatred about Islam only polarizes the debate; it doesn’t lead to peace and harmony.

BH in Iowa says:

Would FDR have allowed Imperial Japan to build a victory shrine at Pearl Harbor?

Ranen says:

I read & enjoyed Halkin’s short book. His close readings of a number of poems are terrific. Too often he strays into over-determined conjectures and reads Halevi through the very, very narrow prism of his own life choices and stident Zionism. Ultimately, he is the kind of reader not well-equipped to handle the surprises and ambivalences of sophisticated poetry and the poet’s complex cultural belongings.

As for the mosque, I am most definitely in favor of its construction–a wonderful way for global Islam to redefine itself as an expression of humanistic values and compassion.

paula levin says:

whatever the intentions in calling the islamic centre Cordoba, let it be noted that “Abdul Rauf, the man orchestrating the building of the mosque at Ground Zero … earlier this summer refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist organization.” (world jewish daily, monday august 16 – hamas endorses ground zero mosque). nuff said.

HaSoferet says:

I think we at least TRY to look at some of this objectively. It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect one Muslim to call another one a terrorist, just as it’s unrealistic to expect Jews to call other Jews terrorists even though to the outside worlds the acts themselves clearly meet the definition of terrorism. And we need not look to the middle east for examples of differing perceptions – to the British the American colonists were terrorists, yet they were looked upon then (and now) as freedom fighters who were justified in their actions; IRA terrorists or Irish patriots struggling to throw off a nasty occupation etc?

I’m NOT saying Hamas is good…I’m merely trying to point out that this is a VERY complex set of issues.

From the American Islamic Forum for Democracy

Mr. President this is not about religious freedom. It is about the importance of the World Trade Center site to the psyche of the American People. It is about a blatant attack on our sovereignty by people whose ideology ultimately demands the elimination of our way of life. While Imam Faisal Rauf may not share their violent tendencies he does seem to share a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.

As a Muslim desperate to reform his faith, your remarks take us backwards from the day that my faith will come into modernity. I do not stand to eliminate Imam Rauf’s religious freedom; I stand to make sure that my children’s religious freedom will be determined by the liberty guaranteed in the American Constitution and not by clerics or leaders who are apologists for shar’iah law and will tell me what religious freedom is.

‘Park 51′, ‘The Cordoba House’ or whatever they are calling it today should not be built, not because it is not their right to do it – but because it is not right to do it.” Mr. President, your involvement in this issue is divisive not uniting. Your follow-up stating that ‘you will not speak to the wisdom of the construction of that mosque and center’ indicates a passive-aggressive meddling on your part that only marginalizes those Muslim and non-Muslim voices against it while pretending to understand both sides of the debate.

Marc, you need to get past your moral superiority complex on this issue. Not everyone who is against this Muslim Community Center/Mosque is a racist bigot. We are against this building because its in bad taste to build a 15 story Islamic center so close to Ground Zero. So far, they’ve done the exact opposite in what they want to achieve. They aren’t building bridges, they are burning them.

HaSoferet says:


Thanks for posting that and directing us to the AIFD site.


It’s my pleasure. Unlike some people, I want to have a level-headed, honest debate on this issue.

HaSoferet says:

Yeah…good luck.

lovelyisraelis says:

Ridiculous to label Hamas a terrorist organization. Pure racism and ignorance.

lovelyisraelis says:

Is anyone suggesting that no church be built anywhere near the site of Christian terrorism at abortion clinics, which have also killed and injured innocent people?

The hypocrisy and racism stinks to high heaven,

Jewish Klansmen–just like the Israeli settlers.

Quite sickening.

lovelyisraelis says:


I take issue with your contention that Jews will not label other Jews “terrorists”

Jews have consistently been on the front lines in denouncing the terrorists of Israel in the most unequivocal terms. This is due in part to the fact that infantile accusations of “anti-Semitism” will not work against us, coupled with the fact that Jews of conscience have an added responsibility to speak out against outrages perpetrated in our name.

Israel was born in terrorism, as Jewish historians (Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, etc) have shown, and it continues as a terrorist state, as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Philip Roth, Sara Roy, Justice Goldstone and countless other Jews of character have made clear (not to mention the reports of all the mainstream human rights organizations).

This is NOT a question of the Arab version of events vs the Jewish one, no matter how belligerently the pro-Israel crowd tries to insist on this false narrative.

lovelyisraelis says:

“Not everyone who is against this Muslim Community Center/Mosque is a racist bigot. ”

Sorry–they absolutely ARE. There is no case against the community center that is not steeped in anti-Arab racism. It’s just that this form of racism is now so all-pervasive in our society, that it comes naturally to people and there is no stigma attached to it.

The prohibition of a church in response to a Christian act of terrorism would be unthinkable, just as a prohibition against synagogues (which actively support Israeli terrorism and indeed, collect funds to perpetuate it) would be unthinkable.

This is plain, simple, garden variety, off-the-shelf racism.

It’s really absurd to even attempt to disguise it.

HaSoferet says:


The fact is that many, if not most sovereign states were “born in terrorism”….just look at any map.

lovelyisraelis says:


many, though not all. but i followed the observation with the fact that israel, far from denouncing or abandoning their terrorist roots, has made terrorism the epicenter of current national policy and have found a host of new and innovative means for carrying it out their deadly assaults on innocent people.

Supporters of Israel are fond of saying that israel is held to a different standard. On that point, I’m in full agreement. Any other country today behaving in such a manner would be subjected to crippling sanctions, followed by a cruise missile strike.

HaSoferet says:


One could have said the same of many other countries shortly after their birth.

HaSoferet says:

Democracy is only required of our government. Tablet is a privately- owned entity that can make and enforce its own rules. One is always free to change the channel as it were.

David says:

In London’s newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, director of Al-Arabiya TV and previous editor of the paper, explains why the mosque should not be build at Ground Zero:

“I cannot imagine that Muslims want a mosque on this particular site, because it will be turned into an arena for promoters of hatred, and a symbol of those who committed the crime. At the same time, there are no practicing Muslims in the district who need a place of worship, because it is indeed a commercial district. … The last thing Muslims want today is to build just a religious center out of defiance to the others, or a symbolic mosque that people visit as a museum next to a cemetery. … The battle against the September 11 terrorists is a Muslim battle … and this battle still is ablaze in more than 20 Muslim countries. Some Muslims will consider that building a mosque on this site immortalizes and commemorates what was done by the terrorists who committed their crime in the name of Islam. I do not think that the majority of Muslims want to build a symbol or a worship place that tomorrow might become a place about which the terrorists and their Muslim followers boast, and which will become a shrine for Islam haters whose aim is to turn the public opinion against Islam.”

Read the whole thing.

On that note. It would be nice if certain editors of Tablet embraced the old saying 2 Jews, 3 Opinions. Instead of 2 Jews and 1 opinion.

HaSoferet says:

So while Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid says “there are no practicing Muslims in the district who need a place of worship, because it is indeed a commercial district”, Sharif El-Gamal, the CEO of the mosque’s development company has been quoted as saying that their only purpose is to serve the downtown community.

David says:


I like to add that my favorite part about the piece is this, “This is because the mosque is not an issue for Muslims, and they have not heard of it until the shouting became loud between the supporters and the objectors, which is mostly an argument between non-Muslim US citizens!” Which is so true. Here on Tablet, we’ve got Jews fighting with Jews about whether this center should get built. To TV pundits from MSNBC to Fox News screaming to the top of their lungs about this whole mess. It’s basically showing us how derisive our country has become.

Even on this website I have to question myself to whether my comment will be put in ‘moderation’ because I’m being a bad boy. It’s quite sad actually. We are becoming a nation where we are only allow to go blogs and websites where we share the same point of view, otherwise we are not welcome. One last thing, debate is one thing, throwing hateful language is another. Oh, being snarky should be allowed. This is the web after all.

HaSoferet says:

Unfortunately it’s not a new phenomenon, but the web does exacerbate the problem. Most things get misunderstood and blown out of proportion on the web. It’s the nature of the beast, probably because it’s not really a social activity in the true sense of the term…it exists between the reader and his or her emotions which can get really volatile because it’s usually done while one is alone. But I’ll leave that to the psychologists.

As you can guess from my screen name I’m a writer, a professional journalist, and part of my work involves writing for the web. I’m often amazed at the reactions I get to some of my articles and I end up wondering whether or not the reader has set up a laptop and a MIFI on Mars.

Cordoba was relatively tolerant until a fanatical group of Muslims called the Alomohads conquered in the 13th century. Plus, it was named after a place in Spain for a reason…Islamists desire to ‘retake’ all Muslim lands conquered by Christians. That’s the symbolism behind the name.

samina says:

people attempt to tell “the real facts” about islamic spain seem to forget that a) we’re talking about a period of several centuries, b) we’re talking about a period which occurred a thousand years ago. i mean, it wasn’t a modern liberal state, well…yeah. noone’s really claiming it was, the comparison is just evoked because it’s instructive. it was a thousand years ago: by the standards of its time it was exceptional. let’s not forget it would be several centuries before the enlightened french and germans stopped carrying out religious genocides, and several centuries before europeans stopped enslaving people (just try to claim that enslaving white christians is morally worse than enslaving black africans, go on i dare you). and the statement that al-andalus was NOT like a modern liberal state because groups “kept socially to themselves” and “were convinced of the superiority” is just…wow. people “destroying myths” about islamic spain has about as much credibility, and operates along similar lines, as someone “destroying myths” about nazi germany by pointing out their rapid industrial growth. you’re arguing against an argument noone is making because in the wider scheme of things it’s irrelevant.

islamic spain was not a modern ancestor of the pluralistic multicultural state, but if one looks back through history it’s pretty hard to find anything quite as strikingly similar. and, therefore, it becomes deliciously ironic that two of the most similar historical states to the pluralistic multiculturalism that intellectual knuckle-draggers claim are allowing muslims (and your selected others: black people, sephardic jews, take your pick) to destroy civilization are both muslim: islamic spain and the mid-to-late ottoman empire. ho ho!

HaSoferet says:


You make a good point about the comparison between Spain and a moderate liberal state. You’re correct when you say we can’t judge something that existed so long ago with today’s sensibilities, knowledge, mores etc.

Elif Cetiner says:

Whether Cordoba was or wasn’t a true utopia for people of various faiths isn’t really what’s important here. What’s important is the history that is being written at the moment in NYC. I look at this from an Australian perspective, a multicultural society, where the plurality of faiths, cultures and experiences adds to its richness and quality of life.
Saying no the Islamic Community Centre fills me with fear for what America may be become. Opposing a faith and the people who practice it is dangerous and you need only look at the history that attests to it, which l’m sure many of you will not discount. Respect for faiths is a two-way street. American should know better than to protest rights which they bestow upon their citizens. Practice what you preach. I am an Australian of Turkish Muslim parents. I am in no-way affiliated or see any resonance between my parents faith and terrorism. To paraphrase your President, those who brought about the disaster at Ground Zero do not represent this faith. I would hope that more American’s would have the intelligence to see this and be more embracing of the richness that can come from peace between faiths.

David says:

Elif Cetiner,

What about American sensibilities in this issue? All we hear about is how we are offending Muslims and their feelings about opposing this Islamic Center. Why can’t we include American sensibilities in this debate? Why don’t our feelings matter at all? The problem with this debate is that people like yourself who want to see this center built keep stating that if we oppose this center we will oppose all future Islamic building being built in the future. That is such a red herring. Stop telling Westerners we need to be more tolerant, it should go both ways. The Islamic World today is completely intolerant of religious minorities. Yet, here you are, preaching to us that we need opened minded. I’m all for plurality, but the ‘let’s build the center’ side is being completely insensitive to the majority of New Yorkers, Americans, but especially to victims relatives of 9/11.

Instead of building this center in a commercial district where very few people live, how about building the center in a residential neighborhood where people all of faiths could gather more easily. What’s so wrong with that? If that’s your goal, than it shouldn’t be problem.

samina says:

David, perhaps it would be more worthwhile to include “American sensibilities” in the debate if the holders of these “American sensibilities” took even a tiny moment of their time to do some research. This is a SUFI mosque. The people who flew the planes into the twin towers (or their masters and indoctrinators, at least) would probably find its potential worshippers even more abhorrent than Jews and Christians; at least Jews & Christians are simply ignoring the true faith rather than perverting the true faith. The vast majority, a staggering majority, like 99% of, the American views I’ve read about this debate show absolutely no understanding of Islam and no desire to understand any further.

And this is why they should not have to give in (as it is rumored they’re about to); they have nothing whatsoever to apologize for. 9/11 had nothing to do with them. Simply because they can both be put under the banner of “ISLAM” means nothing. It’s like opposing a Southern Baptist church because of corruption in the Vatican. It’s like Canadians opposing the building of a Sikh gurdwara because of the Air India 182 bombing. And which “intolerant” Islamic world is this? The same one that has synagogues and churches in the vast majority of its capital cities? How many and which countries are you talking about, exactly? Until your level of knowledge on the subject progresses above “minimal”, kindly refrain from talking nonsense.

HaSoferet says:

Elif Cetiner,

I’m not disputing the accuracy of your argument, nor do I dismiss your fears about what the US is becoming. I also don’t dispute the fact that the vast majority of Americans are ignorant about Islam. But I think you are dismissing the visceral fear felt by many New Yorkers…something that is very difficult to overcome. It may not be rational when looked at in a larger context, but it’s there.

Our politicians like to say that American was attacked on 9/11, but New York City was brutally attacked on that day and we who lived through it (and saw it live as I did from my window less than a mile away) and through the earlier WTC bombing, and through the recent attempted bombing of Times Square, and the attempted attacks on some synagogues are still pretty raw.

David says:


You’re right, in my response to Elif I should have gone on to explain in great detail, the differences between Sufism and Wahhabism. Or go into great detail to explain why Sunni’s and Shiites hate each other. Or why Sunni’s and Shiites really hate the Druze and Alawites. Yeah, if I went into the nuances of Islamic sects you wouldn’t need to attack me as some simpleton rube who doesn’t know that Islam isn’t some homogeneous religion, but a religion like many others around the planet, a religion with lots of flavors.

And if this Imam really is a true Sufi at heart, he should know better than to build an Islamic Center so close to Ground Zero. Yeah I know the Sufism is mostly mystical and peaceful, but what this guy is doing is neither.

How about we cut a deal, let’s turn this Islamic Center into a Bahá’í Center for peace.

samina says:

well my learned friend, if you don’t want to be mistaken for someone who knows nothing about islam (which of course you’re not, and never were) you shouldn’t make posts that only make sense coming from someone for whom that is the case! given that the entire premise of your post hinges on the people proposing this center/mosque being ideological/spiritual brethren of the people who flew planes into the world trade center, which of course they aren’t as you know, you can see how one could be mistaken! after all, such an assertion would make as much sense as the hypothetical situations i mentioned! were you posting in-character as “a simpleton rube”? if so, please put tags in your post next time, so people don’t get confused

Elif Cetiner says:

I don’t make light of the emotion that is very much alive in the US and more so in the lives of New Yorkers. 9/11 was a sad day for the world and its potentially sadder still if we act on what happened in ways that those mirror the actions of the attackers.
Samina, I agree just saying ‘oh, move the Centre a little to the right’ so to speak will make it ok. No doubt moving somewhere else may raise concerns yet again. Its not the location that is the problem, its a symptom of an equation we make too readily between Islam and terrorism. Raw emotions aside, the decision should be a fair one and from what I can see it appears to be legitimate. I’m happy to be told otherwise.

marta wrote: “Cordoba was also the city that Maimonides fled, because fear of his life, when he was forced to convert to Islam.”

a) he left because the Muslim Almohads conquered the prior moderate Muslim rulers.

b) he left 11 years after the Almohads took over, and in that time was able to continue his Judaic studies and other education, albeit while pretending to be Muslim.

c) His family first went to Morocco, which was *also* under Almohad rule. They continued pretending to be Muslim, but had to leave six years later.

d) They then moved to Muslim-ruled Palestine, where the economy wouldn’t support them

e) and finally to Muslim but non-Almohad Cairo, where Jews could practice their faith openly. And that’s where he died about 40 years later.

So what’s your point, exactly?

It’s not like they fled Cordoba to go to France. Or England. Or any other ‘Christian’ place.

Pre-Almohad Muslim Cordoba was, for hundreds of years, more tolerant than Almohad Cordoba. Non-Almohad Cairo was more tolerant than the Almohads.

“Granada’s Jewish vizier at the time, who was crucified”

On the other hand, Muslim viziers also tended to come to bad ends. Kind of an occupational hazard, no?

It should also be pointed out that this Jewish vizier was the son of the prior Jewish vizier, who died naturally after arranging for his son to succeed him. And the father pretty much ran Granada. For years.

furtive says:

in 1011, the progoms against jews began in cordoba, driving them out; shariah law considered them apostates, worthy of execution.
so much for peace & harmony.
Sounds like a symbolic memory for lower manhattan. Muslims conquered Cordoba & made it their shrine.


Drive them out; They are intolerant & prejudiced according to their own laws! Their goal is to dominate.




‘Religious’ tolerance?

The privileges of being classed as religion should be withdrawn from Islam.

If Hitler had claimed that ‘Mein Kampf’ was dictated by God, would we be forced to tolerate the Nazi Party as a religion? Islam is first and foremost a mind-destroying, totalitarian political ideology that spreads through the Body Politic like a virus.

Winston Churchill gave the correct diagnosis over a century ago, when he compared Islam to a contagious virus or meme – ‘as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog’

Consequently, Islam should be reclassified from ‘RELIGION’ to ‘PUBLIC MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM’ – a virulent contagious mental illness. It could then be contained by the methods used to prevent the spread of typhoid and other lethal epidemics: enforced exclusion and quarantime of carriers, eradication of foci of infection, immunization of the susceptible population etc.

Desert nonna says:

My question is why specifically that location? We are told that there are no Muslims living in that area. Is this to show conquest, or a memorial to the fallen of 9/11. There are other empty buildings further away from ground zero that would suit this mosque. Again why so close to ground zero??? If this mosque is to be a beacon of tolerance or “convivencia” of any kind, then they should build it as a multi-cultural, multi religious center so all faiths can use it for their worship. This would show to the world that Islam is tolerated by all faiths and also that Islam itself tolerates all faiths. Would they be as tolerant if 9/11 had happened in a Muslim country and had been caused by let’s say a Christian extremist group; and 9 years later someone wanted to erect a Christian church near their ground zero???? I think in this instance the imam should show sensitivity to those who oppose the location.

Sylvia says:

If it’s wrong to hang a confederate flag when the real issue was state rights instead of bigotry then why isn’t there a problem with the Cordoba Iniative?If it’s a real effort to bring peace why not incorporate all three main religions in this cultural center? After all all 3 religions lost followers due to the madness of a few fanatic Muslims. What better way to show they aren’t of the same mind.When Phelps spreads his form of religious hate other churches come out against him.I’m sure the same is true of Judaism.Yet hardly a word is said by the Muslim community except in regards to how the actions affect the way they are treated. In the 50s you often heard “I have no problems with the blacks as long as they remember their place”.How is that any different than Cordoba or how the Jews were treated in Palestine before becoming a nation?It’s wrong. Equality never means below or above but paralell to. You have freedom of religion so no matter what is said once built there is little that can be done.Does anyone want another attack coming from so close because some whack job made his own interpretation of what he was being told?If all 3 religions were there it would make a huge statement to the world about religious freedom. As it’s being done now all it’s doing is causing more pain & contention & the man in charge seems to be thriving on it all because everyone is scared to look like a bigot by looking for truth.

Jack McGrath says:

Muslims are a cancer.We should ask them to leave or convert.If they refuse kill them.

Andrew says:

Trencherbone has a very important point as to why it is so hard to hinder the cancerous progression of Islam in a free society. If Islam were ONLY a political movement it could be stamped out on legal grounds in the US as its ultimate goal is the overthrow of the US government and its substitution with a totalitarian Shariah compliant government. But by virtue of it’s ALSO being a religion, Islam is spared the same scrutiny any like-minded political movement would face. Islam in the US is a trojan horse of “biblical” proportions… literally. The Cordoba ground zero Mosque is just one more incremental step toward the eventual Islamification of the US. And once they get more power, don’t kid yourself, they won’t be thinking about “community outreach” by that time. Rather they will be shooting for the universal enforcement of Shariah law and they will strip freedom away from our children, have them convert or pay them jizya tax and they will live as second class citizens or worse.
I understand what Jack means, but it is not Muslims who are the cancer, rather it is Islam. Most muslims are just people born into an oppressive system, trying to get by and while they might earnestly seek God, fortunate for us Christians and Jews, they don’t really have “Islam” in their heart per se. It’s the ones who truly have Islam in their hearts that are the ones who represent a constant threat to peace, stability and freedom. Islam and Western Civilization are like two trains colliding head on. If the west doesn’t wake up and get a spine, it will be overwhelmed by the inertia and pure will power of this Islamic freight train. The people behind the Cordoba mosque are keenly aware of this as well. And here today NY City has practically laid out the red carpet for them. Where is our spine? Islam cannot flourish when man has free will. People naturally opt out of oppression. If we can just defend freedom, we can stop this Islamic cancer.

Lou Burgess - the elder says:

From the sound of most of these comments it appears we need another amendment to the Constitution, one that makes it ok to be a biggot. Some of the most un-Christ like ‘christians’ I have ever encountered.

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Why Cordoba?

The Ground Zero Islamic center was named for a period in Spanish-Muslim history that some call a golden age of tolerance

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