By John Kiser
Yes, we need the Cordoba House complex to set an example for the rest of America and for the world, and so the fear and hate mongers don’t win. It is necessary to show the world that Americans are neither trembling in their boots nor willing to compromise the dignity and rights of American Muslims because of the actions of few dubious “Muslims” around the world.
The Cordoba name harkens back to Muslim dominated Spain — a time and place when Jews, Christians, Muslims lived in relative harmony with each other. This was also a time when Jewish intellectuals spoke and wrote in Arabic, and an Aquinas, an Averroes, and a Maimonidies all drew from a common well of rediscovered Greek knowledge that eventually fed the European Renaissance. The spirit of Cordoba is an ideal of interreligious harmony that Feisal Rauf and Daisy Khan are seeking to recreate to counter a false, ideological Islam that has dangerously stamped and degraded a great monotheistic religious tradition. In the late 19th century admiring Jewish scholars, such as Abraham Geiger and Ignaz Goldziher, venerated and validated Islam as a sister faith.* Goldziher called Islam a pure monotheism towards which other religions should strive, and, more than any other scholar, made Islam a respectable subject of study in European universities where previously it languished in the departments of heresies and Hebrew studies. Again, Jews are emerging as defenders of Islam. Let’s start in Manhattan. Ground Zero.
What does the Jewish Community Center of New York, United Jewish Federation, Mayor Bloomberg, the FBI, Community Board One, and two hundred and fifty 9/11 families have in common? Yes, they all have publically supported the center, or so-called mosque, even if the mosque occupies only 10% of the total projected space. Why are New York’s community leaders uniformly supportive of the multiple story cultural complex, which includes a mosque and multifaith center two blocks away from Ground Zero, while its opponents, who are overwhelmingly non New Yorkers, are doing everything possible to sabotage it. What is their purpose? To instill fear and to play on emotions.
It seems that the Robert Spencers and Pamela Gellers of the world want us to believe that the Muslims have a secret plot to take over America by masquerading as peaceable and democratic, so they can ultimately “impose” sharia law ( ie Taliban variety) on unsuspecting, gullible Americans. Sharia is evil, Islam is a false and violent religion and no Muslim can be trusted. Most dangerous of all is my friend, Imam Feisal Rauf, who has been preaching at his mosque, twelve blocks from Ground Zero for the past twenty years. Apparently, he has already converted, hoodwinked or lulled the local FBI director (who asked the imam to train 600 agents) Rabbi Joy Levitt, Rabbi Arthur Scheiner, Reverand James Morton, Mayor Bloomberg, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, as well as the US State Department into believing he is a democracy-loving American, one who -get this–believes America, in many respects, already is an Islamic society!
How could that be? Because the application of sharia law is to be judged according to how well it protects six basic human values: life, religion, family, property, intellect and dignity. All educated Muslims know this and most famously affirmed by a 19th century Egyptian reformer, Mohammed Abduh( 1849-1905). After visiting European countries he made the remarkable observation , “I go to the West and see Islam, but no Muslims; I go East and see Muslims, but not Islam.”
Collective guilt syndrome is a terrible, and sadly, common facet of America’s dark side. Japanese Americans suffered collective incarceration for the sins of their racial kin across the Pacific, and absurdly unrealistic fear of immanent invasion. Thanks to the Four Minute Men, propaganda squads organized by President Wilson to whip up war fever among Americans and animus against Germany, prejudice against German Americans skyrocketed. German culture clubs around the county were disbanded or hounded out of business. Horror stories were carefully selected to instill fear that brutal “Prussianism” might take over America. Group guilt by association is also part of Catholic Christianity’s nasty past, one completely at odds with the teachings of Jesus. Only in 1964 did the Vatican decide that the Jewish people were not collectively “Christ killers,” and the principal reason Islam shines in comparison to Christianity in its historical treatment of Jews, as well as “people of color.” Reducing minorities to labels relieves the intellectually lazy of having to think. It makes killing others easier.
Politically motivating others by mixing a cocktail of fear, hatred and ignorance are time- tested ingredients for bringing out the worst in people. Human beastiality makes animals behavior look saintly. They, at least, kill individuals -not groups. An older American generation remembers Communist fear mongering that had Americans looking for pinkos under every bed or dinner table. Slander, guilt by association, ruined careers, character assassinations were the glorious legacies of McCarthyism. Mc Carthyism was ultimately repudiated without lessening America’s will to resist communist aggression. Islamophobia is a mixture of racism, undiscriminating ignorance of the diversity and complexity within the Islamic world, and the hard reality of some truly dangerous, Western-hating Muslims (estimated by intel sources variously at 10-40,000 hardcore fanatics worldwide). But sending overseas the military equivalent of bulls to fight wasps is not the right strategy, nor is demonizing all Muslims going to make America or the world safer. Indeed, the opposite. As Gen Petraeus’s Australian advisor, David Kilcullen, has argued in Accidental Guerilla, aggregating our enemies under one big, bad label merely multiplies them.
John Kiser is author of Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abdelkader, French prize winning The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria and Stefan Zweig, The Death of a Modern Man. He is a friend and supporter of Cordoba initiative.
* Albert Hourani, Islam in European Thought, Cambridge Univ Press 1991