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Above: The mezquita in Cordoba, Spain which is the inspiration for the Cordoba Initiative in New York.

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Room For Hatred in Ground-Zero?




A few mornings ago, I was reading the ubiquitous, free "AM New York" newspaper on the subway on the way to a meeting and was disturbed and saddened to learn about a protest of a thousand people in lower Manhattan against an Islamic Center being built near Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, U.S.A. 

Holding signs with slogans like, "No 9/11 Mega Mosque" and "Don't dishonor my son's grave," these protestors represent the growing backlash against the 13-story community center and mosque being built by the Cordoba Initiative.

According to their website, Cordoba "aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago." 

The Cordoba Initiative's proposed Cordoba House located two blocks from Ground Zero "is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by universal values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all."

A few weeks ago, Tea Party leader Mark Williams stated that "the monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists' monkey-god."

Then last week, a radio talk show host in Texas went so far as to urge the bombing of the community center.  CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, reported the following in a press release last week:

"In his response to a caller named ‘Tony' who supported the right to build the planned mosque in New York - an effort that has come under rhetorical attack by anti-Islam extremists - Berry said: ‘No, no, Tony, you can't build a mosque at the site of 9/11. No, you can't. No, you can't. And I'll tell you this - if you do build a mosque, I hope somebody blows it up ... I hope the mosque isn't built, and if it is, I hope it's blown up, and I mean that.'"  

So, what's so threatening about a community center and mosque with a mission of promoting interfaith tolerance and "compassion, generosity, and respect for all"? 

Apparently a lot, if you are full of hatred and vilification of an entire community and religion, which has essentially been a mainstream phenomenon since 9/11 (when it comes to attitudes towards Muslims and Arabs).

The values of the Cordoba House sound very much in line with the values of Sikhi, and I hope to see our community supporting this worthwhile and ambitious endeavor.  Almost nine years after the 9/11 attacks, our city and country still have a lot of healing to do.  Creating a space like the Cordoba House near Ground Zero seems like a powerful and important step in that process.


[Courtesy: Langar Hall]

June 13, 2010



Conversation about this article

1: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 13, 2010, 8:42 AM.

"The promotion of interfaith tolerance and respect", is certainly a value to be encouraged and applauded. But to tout Muslim Spain of 800 years ago as a model is somewhat disingenuous, to say the least. The "harmony and prosperity" among Muslims, Christians and Jews took place in an atmosphere of Islamic political and religious dominance, with Christians and Jews cast in the traditional role of "Ahl-a-Dhimmi", i.e., second-class citizens with restrictions on religion and worship, subject to discriminitory poll tax and obligatory loyalty to the ruling Islamic state, etc. I invite readers to look at Wikipedia, under the heading "Dhimmi" to see what this means in actual practice. This mutual "harmony" existed at the whim of the Muslaim leaders, and of the mobs. I'd be interested to see this organization's take on the Mughal period of history. It's unfortunate that such nice-sounding statements can't be taken at face value, but it's important to remember that wars are waged on many fronts.

2: Harjit Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 13, 2010, 9:16 AM.

What you say, Aryeh ji, may or may not be true. But, nothing that was done then in Cordoba comes even close to the outrages by Israel against human decency, vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Moreover, the Cordoba "Al-Hambra" period is cited, rightly or wrongly, as a period of racial harmony. Nobody in his right mind would even try to color Israel's rule during the last 60 years as even touching their hem, to use a hackneyed metaphor. I think it is time people in Israel started to look beyond their noses! You have enjoyed our unequivocal support and that of much of the world up till now - it is time you started earning it.

3: N. Singh (Canada), June 13, 2010, 10:24 AM.

What in God's name does Israel and her policies have to do with this article? This is just another opportunity to push the pro-Islamic agenda which I see as clearly dangerous!

4: Kamal Chana (Dublin, Ireland), June 13, 2010, 10:56 AM.

To the author: My understanding of the issue is that, out of the blue, you are trying to build strong relationships with other communities. That is a good decision taken by the authorities. However, I really want to ask: is it really important to build a mosque to promote inter-faith understanding? Can't we promote interfaith without having any religous center? On one side, they are talking about interfaith and on the other side you are building your own religous center and where you are not even considering any space for a center for any other religion where Muslim people can come and learn about Jews, Christianity, Sikhs, etc. Sorry to say but here Muslims are equally needed to learn about other faiths. The problem is not what you are describing. Learning has to be both ways. Muslims need to understand Christianty and other faiths and similarly Christians need to understand Islam and other faiths. So, in my opinion, if Muslims really want to promote dialogue with other faiths, it should not be done by establishing a mosque which will cause further problems, but by building a center to learn about all the faiths. A center where holy books from all the religions can be kept and information is provided for those who are interested in learning about all the faiths of the world. It will be truly interfaith if space is given to all faiths, and not by establishing your own mosque or church or any such thing.

5: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 13, 2010, 12:40 PM.

Harjit ji: then as now, there's no such thing as objective reporting, and history - even of recent events - seems to conform more and more to Malcom X's definition: His Story. I have lived in Israel for the better part of my life now, and I have observed a curious phenomenon. Despite the media spin, describing the "never-ending cycle of violence", one rarely hears calls for revenge on Arabs, nor have there been instances of "popular uprisings" targeting Arabs, either within Israel proper or in the disputed territories. I hope you'll agree that there's a moral difference between targeted killings of actual perpetrators of violence, and suicide bombers trying to achieve the highest death toll possible, regardless of the identity of the victims. The overwhelming majority of Israelis simply do not hate Arabs, despite having more than ample cause to do so; they understand that "cause" doesn't equal "justification". This alone should give you pause to consider the sources of the information you're imbibing with regard to this bitterly tragic situation that you read about, but that we here live on a daily basis. Consider the sources, and consider the agenda that feeds this "information". I'm not saying that Israel's record is perfect. But, tell me. Have you ever heard of an armed force, at an extreme risk to its own soldiers, dropping leaflets before an attack, warning civilians to get out of harm's way? This was done in Lebanon and in Gaza, where, in both cases, pinpoint strikes were employed in order to minimize, as much as possible, civilian casualties. Carpet bombing would have been so much safer and more effective. These things are public record, not just a matter of opinion. Finally, when phrases like, "Nobody in his right mind" are employed, know that such name-calling simply serves to lower the entire level of discourse and to compromise one's own argument, however valid the points may or may not be. In the words of our own Dr. I.J. Singh, "Let us learn to disagree without being disagreeable".

6: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 13, 2010, 5:21 PM.

Let me endorse Kamal Chana's take. Yes, we need a memorial to interfaith understanding and tolerance at Ground Zero, not a marker of one single faith. Such a center would be far preferable to a center that leaves too many out - certainly not a mosque, church, synagogue, mandir or a gurdwara, but a center dedicated to interfaith communication and open to all - even agnostics and atheists.

7: Kanwar (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 13, 2010, 6:06 PM.

As they say ... 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions!' What possible good can there be in building a mosque near 'Ground Zero', other than to rub salt in the wounds of non-Muslim New Yorkers. For every one of the thousand protesters, be assured that there are one thousand others simmering angrily behind him/her. Whether their hostility is misguided or the mosque builders' intentions are benign is entirely irrelevant, if the end goal of the venture is communal harmony between New Yorkers. Stupidity like this only invites trouble. Also, I agree with Aryeh's sentiment that the historical precedent of religious harmony within Muslim Spain is highly dubious. The notion of mutual respect and tolerance amongst different faiths falls apart when one faith is lord and master of the others. Peace depended largely on the whim of the particular Muslim ruler of the generation. As with Mughal India, historical record suggests that there was more religious tolerance under self indulgent, hedonistic womanizers like Akbar than under a 'pious' Muslim rulers like Auragzeb.

8: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 14, 2010, 12:08 AM.

I heartily second (or is it "third", at this point?) Kamal Chana's position. But if a religious center must be built, let a Muslim organization promoting mutual tolerance and understanding put their money where their mouth is, and take a cue from the splendid Sikhs of Sarwarpur - build a church and/or synagogue!

9: Balbir Singh Sodhi, JP (London, United Kingdom), June 14, 2010, 5:03 AM.

In my view, building a mosque near Ground Zero would be very insensitive. It would in no way help to promote goodwill between the communities concerned, but may create more tension instead. Therefore, I agree with Sardar I.J. Singh's view that building a true interfaith center is the best option for this location.

10: Surinder (Massachusetts, U.S.A.), June 14, 2010, 11:41 AM.

Harjit Singh ji, the article has no mention of or has a relation to Israel, yet you bring in that nation. Perhaps solely because you recogize the commentator's name. First, it is irrelevant, and secondly, Israel's record of treating non-Jews is much better than the Islamic record of treating the non-Muslims. I am sorry, it does not even begin to compare. As Aryeh Leib ji pointed out, the choice of "Cordoba" as a symbol is interesting, as it is devious. It is not just that Cordoba was a utopia, a heaven on earth, according to its protagonists. But what is important is that it was ruled by members of their own faith. The inter-faith utopia was governed and granted by Muslims, and this to them is the most important marker of Cordoba. It is all about power.

11: G.G. Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 14, 2010, 1:59 PM.

I like what our brother from Israel has to say ... stay strong.

12: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 15, 2010, 3:06 AM.

May we all look forward to, and work toward, the day when Sat Naam will fill the earth, and there will be no reason for suspicion of anyone's motives or hidden agenda! Meanwhile, it's one thing to wish for it; it's quite another thing to treat such wishes as if they were already viable options ...

13: Deep Hundal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), June 16, 2010, 12:16 AM.

Aryeh Leib ji, I don't want to get into an argument over Israel's conduct in Palestine. However, there is a wide body of evidence that has proven your points to be nothing more than the established propaganda of a state that has continually violated international law and continues to do so. What happened in Gaza were not pin-point precision attacks on militants, they were mostly attacks on largely civilian targets and infrastructure. The Goldstone report and Amnesty International's findings support this. Your careful articulation should be reflected on by your own words: "It's unfortunate that such nice-sounding statements can't be taken at face value, but it's important to remember that wars are waged on many fronts." As such, it would be interesting to see how Arabs living in continual military occupation of their lands perceive their Jewish occupiers. You know, living not even as 'second-class' citizens, but as sub-humans with 'obligatory loyalty to the ruling military' occupiers - to use your own words. It would be interesting indeed but even more interesting would be why you bring up old Islamic empires when trying to engage in 'serious discourse' on a contemporary issue.

14: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 16, 2010, 7:07 AM.

Deep ji, it appears to me that you are of the same mind as the Goldstone Commission whose report you defend. It's more than significant that Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and no friend of Israel's by any account, refused to head this "fact-finding" commission, realizing its mission was flawed from the outset, pointing out that the Council, "had made repeated condemnations of Israel over the past two years but had focused little attention on large-scale violations of human rights in other countries. This pattern of action and inaction by the Council has given greater credence to those who believe the UN's highest human rights body is inherently anti-Israel." As for it being "interesting to see how Arabs living in continual military occupation perceive their Jewish occupiers", that's easy; just pick up a newspaper, turn on a TV. That's because Israel has something that no other country in the immediate area has - an Arabic language press armed with the freedom to criticize "the ruling military occupiers". Not bad for "sub-humans" Alternatively, ask any reporter who's ever covered Gaza how long his/her press credentials would last, should they have the temerity to report something unfavorable toward them! [Editor: This comment is directed to ALL readers. I am going to ask all of you to stay on focus while commenting on articles, on the subject and thrust of the article in question, and try not to stray into other arguments, which though possibly important, will be and should be dealt elsewhere. From hereon, on this and all other articles, let's all stay on track, please.]

15: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 16, 2010, 9:07 AM.

Hear, hear. And, my apologies to Sundeep "Sonny" Singh ji, who presented the article.

16: Mahendra (Framingham, MA, U.S.A.), June 24, 2010, 10:17 AM.

Let them build a gurdwara or church or a pagoda - that will be their real test!

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