“Ground Zero Mosque” is the name through which mass media has successfully changed American public perception of an initiative that started with the purpose of promoting trust and understanding among Muslims, Christians, and Jews in New York to be seen as an insult to the victims of the horrors of September 11, 2001. The name Cordoba was meant to signify the great times of harmony in Andalusia of Southern Spain between the three religions that have been without precedent before or since. Those were the golden days of Andalusia that saw total harmony and respectful coexistence in Cordoba among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Some American conservative politicians claimed, without any foundation – historic, factual, or otherwise – whatsoever, that the use of the name Cordoba was to signify Muslim domination and subjugation of Christians. For more than four hundred years, Cordoba was the centre of learning and civilization. During that era, Cordoba had the largest library in the world; housing hundred of thousands of volumes in all known fields of science, art, and knowledge. All of a sudden, according to the whim of the American conservative political leader Newt Gingrich, this great city is transformed into a hateful symbol of Muslim domination over, and subjugation of, non-Muslims. Such total overturning, reinvention, and falsification of the truth can only be motivated by hate; there is no other explanation for it. While ignorance does not help – it alone cannot lead to such flagrant falsehood, inaccuracy, and misrepresentation.
Only if Newt Gingrich did his homework and read a few pages from any of the countless and easily available sources about the history of Cordoba, he might have refrained from using inflammatory phrases like “Muslim subjugation of Spanish Christians”. Alas, he preferred ignorance over knowledge, which resulted in his inflammatory remarks that ignited anger and allowed raw emotions to overtake enlightened, calm reasoning. That might be politically expedient, and might even help his Republican party win more seats at the midterm elections in November 2010, but will it be good for America? Did Mr. Gingrich ask himself that question before uttering his ignorant venomous words?
The sizeable opposition to the Cordoba Initiative is not the only sign of the growing Islamophobia in America. There are many other signs, not the least of which is the call for “burn the Quran day” on September 11, 2010 that was started by an otherwise unknown “pastor” of a church in a small community in rural Florida that has an estimated following of thirty to fifty people. Many Muslim communities across the United States face vocal opposition from local activists against building or expanding Mosques or Islamic community centres throughout the United States.
However, this dark cloud of Islamophobia that seems to be engulfing the United States of America, causing Millions of Muslim Americans to live in fear and anxiety, is not without a silver lining. The most encouraging sign for optimism is the debate that has been ignited and is taking place throughout America as a result of the rise of this massive wave of Islamophobia. People from all faith groups are standing by and defending the constitutional right of Muslim communities to worship in peace and to build their mosques and community centres, just like all other faith groups in the country do. Political leaders are weighing in; media personalities are expressing their opinions on the subject; ordinary folks are directly engaged in the countless events across the United States to address the relevant issues. Media hype over this wave of Islamophobia will probably disappear by next November; i.e. after the midterm congressional elections. But the debate surrounding Islamophobia in America and the American constitution will continue for a lot longer.
Through this vibrant debate, Americans have already proven the accuracy in the meaning of the proverb: “Every cloud has a silver lining!” The question remains whether they will follow through and confirm their continued upholding of the values of their founding fathers who participated in framing and adopting the constitution of the United States of America in 1787-1788.
Obviously, there are those who – under different names and with various excuses – defend the actions of Xenophobic Americans; but the debate is lively, energetic, inclusive, and spread throughout the United States. The world is watching contemporary America being tested. America’s continued belief in the values of its founding fathers is being put on the historic scale of greatness. Will America be true to what she claims to be her values? Will Americans uphold their constitution? Will freedom of thought, including freedom of religion, prevail in contemporary America, just as it has prevailed for more than two centuries? Will America, after the dust is settled and after this debate is concluded, be standing tall in defence of that which made it great? If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the Americans’ choosing to defend and uphold the great constitution of the United States of America. Islamophobia will not be eradicated from America; but it will be significantly weakened by Americans settling the debate in favour of freedom of thought.
Hope is the stuff from which life is made!