Irfan Engineer


The proposed construction of a mosque-cum-community centre, ‘Cordoba House’, in Lower Manhattan in New York has generated a lot of controversy. The Centre is just a few blocks away from the Ground Zero. Rick A Lazio, a former Congressman from Long Island is making the project a focus of his candidacy for Governorship from the Republican Party. Lazio has alleged in his campaign addresses that the Cordoba House project is not only being insensitive but also being offensive to the victims of 9/11. Cordoba House project is led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Lazio has also been questioning the source of funds for the construction of the Cordoba House.


Imam Rauf has made his life mission to build bridges between religious groups. The House is being built with the support of downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across religious spectrum. Among the supporters of the project are victims of the 9/11, religious leaders from Jewish and Christian communities. The community centre will have multi-faith approach. The name Cordoba was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. The House is meant to help counter radical Islamist ideology. The supporters of the House envision shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children. There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths. The House will also include a multi-faith memorial dedicated to victims of the 9/ 11. Imam Rauf has claimed that Cordoba House would be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord the creator with heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. The organizers want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.


Thanks to the US media which is largely controlled by the right wing, Lazio, Sarah Palin and others opposed to the project succeeded in projecting the Cordoba House as a mosque and not multi-faith centre. Mosque is only a small part of the project but the popular image of the project is that of a mosque. A club or an educational institution with a prayer house for Christians remains club or educational institution but one with prayer house for Muslims would become quintessentially a Mosque in the eyes of the Lazio, Sarah Palin and other right wingers. The victims of the 9/11 have been made to feel that it would be offensive to them. The whole issue is, how does one perceive the 9/11 attack and whom does one accuse of aggression? The Republicans and the right wing US project Islam as the aggressor. President Bush in his address after 9/11 attack called upon to launch crusade invoking the wars between Christianity and Islam in the medieval period. President Bush left no grey areas and classified the world into two camps – either you are with us or with “them”. On the other hand democratic minded liberals reject this framework of only two camps based on religion and ‘with us or with them’ framework. There is huge diversity among the Christians and huge diversity among the Muslims. Liberals pin point the culprits of 9/11 to be Osama bin Laden and not Islam. Others hold that the culprits are yet to be identified through trial in a court of law.


Clash of Civilization


The right wing Christians, like the right wing Hindutva followers want to project Muslims to be homogenous, all of them having the same political views and sharing the same weltanschauung  and way of life that is completely based on their religion – and religion alone. Thus all that remains to be done is to discriminate them, exclude them, subjugate them, crush them, defeat them and remove them as far away from the community or nation as is possible. They are lesser human beings, projected as enemy, aggressors and war mongers in the past and in the present, therefore deserve no rights, should have no claims. They need to be fought till every member of their community is completely subjugated, crushed and defeated. In order to persuade fellow community members to adopt this view point and make them perceive Muslims – or for that matter any other targeted community – as lesser human beings, it is necessary to continuously attribute religious motive behind all their actions on the one hand and target their religion as dangerous source of inhuman acts on the other hand. To achieve the objective of subjugated, crushed and defeated Muslim community, it becomes necessary to mobilize popular support of the fellow community. This objective is achieved by insulting the cultural and religious symbols and provoking the fringe elements of the Muslim community into violent and aggressive protest reactions. The violent protest reactions by the fringe elements of the community are then used to demonstrate that Muslims are dangerous and should not be trusted. Thus we see the Dutch cartoons, threat of burning Quran by Terry Jones, targeting veil worn by Muslim women, opposing mosque like architecture, are some instances. The media too focuses and creates larger than life image of the fringe elements from amongst the Muslim community, of terrors attacks in Iraq and Pakistan, of veil wearing ‘oppressed’ Muslim women, of demonstrations protesting Dutch cartoons, of construction of Mosques, of the American hostages taken by Iran and such events. Coverage of other political and cultural diversity, of arts and history and other activities within the community is negligible and in any case invisible. They thus project the community as a homogenous entity and holding them responsible for even the acts of past by rulers belonging to the community. Thus the attack on World Trade Centre is seen as attack by Islam on civilized world, or on freedom, or on “our way of life”.


By projecting Islam and Muslims as homogenous community, the right wingers also achieve the objective of mobilizing and rallying their own community to behave as a homogenous entity and rendering insignificant all other identities except their religious identity. Osama bin Laden and people of his ilk – the extremists, fundamentalists or political Islamists – whatever you call them – think exactly in similar fashion about Christians and Jews. Laden too wants the Muslims to be homogenous – to be Sunni Salafi Arab Muslims wherein women are completely marginalized, and impose this homogeneity by force. When the right wingers declare war on all Muslims, Ladens of the Muslim world project themselves as the only protectors and saviors and dominate the community. Domination of political islamists results in marginalization of democracy and liberal opinion within the community.


Sarah Palin and Lazio’s campaign is more political in nature rather than born out of genuine concern for the victims of 9/11. Threat of Quran burning by Terrence Jones which was later withdrawn is also politically motivated rather than out of concern for victims of 9/11. This point of view will always see any Imam, construction of any mosque or any centre where lead is taken by a Muslim as “insensitive and offensive”, as their objective is to put Islam, their way of life and Muslims as far away from them as possible. Huntington summed up this brand of politics as “clash of civilization” between the west and the rest. The first target among the rest is Islam.


Not Civilizational Clash But Clash is Between Liberal Democrats And Right Wing Ideology


But that is not the way liberal democrats view things. That is not the way of those who stand for freedom, liberty, equality and fraternity. Give the devil credit where it us due. In the Cordoba House Project at least, the Democratic Party has taken appreciable stand. President Obama expressing his support said, “let me be clear: As a citizen, and as President, I believe the Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” President Obama did not ignore the fact that Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion. Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, a Jew by faith has also extended his support for the Cordoba House project. Democrats and liberals see the 9/11 attack as attack by Al Qaeda or a particular organization and / or individuals who should be brought to justice. Such fringe and extremists exist in every community. Depending on the victimhood they are able to construct, the support that they enjoy and the resources they are able to command, such elements adopt various strategies to crush their “other” and for them, ends justify their means.


On which side you are? It is the principle that is important and not statistics of how many support whom!

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