Almost everything about the proposed Ground Zero mosque was cynically brilliant.
Start with the notion of a “Cordoba Initiative.” In the elite modern Western mind, Cordoba has been transmogrified into a mythical Lala Land of interfaith tolerance. To invoke the city is to prove one’s ecumenical credentials. Just ask our president, who, in his June 2009 Cairo speech, fantastically claimed that the Muslim city taught us tolerance while Christians were launching the Inquisition (1478) — quite a feat two and a half centuries after most of the Muslims of Cordoba had fled, converted, or been cleansed during the city’s fall (1236) to the Christian forces of the Reconquista. But no matter, we got the president’s drift about who was supposedly tolerant and who was not.
In truth, apart from a brief cultural renaissance, Cordoba, during its five centuries of Islamic rule, was not especially tolerant of nonbelievers. And, like most medieval cities, it was plagued by coups, assassinations, and right-wing clerical intolerance; it was a place where books were both burned and written. But that is not the point of citing Cordoba. Surely Feisal Abdul Rauf knows all that and more: Cordoba is as much a mythical construct of a long-ago multicultural paradise so dear to elite liberals as it is a fantasy rallying cry to Islamists to reclaim the lost Al-Andalus.
So Cordoba is a two-birds-with-one-stone evocation: in the liberal West proof of one’s ecumenical bona fides; in the Middle East proof of one’s Islamist bona fides. It would be easy to find a city emblematic of interfaith outreach other than the Andalusian Cordoba — from Jerusalem to Ann Arbor — but then the irony would be lost.
Then we come to Imam Rauf himself. To his liberal defenders, he is a sort of respectable Deepak Chopra who at respectable places like Aspen mouths pop platitudes of interfaith tolerance — so much so that our own State Department has employed him, apparently for quite some time, for goodwill gallivanting abroad.
But to those in the Middle East, he is known equally well for doing what he can, as a Western liberal, to contextualize terrorism, bin Laden, and Islamic extremism within the tired Western postmodern tropes of cultural relativism: “The United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened” on 9/11; “In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.”; “The U.S. and the West must acknowledge the harm they have done to Muslims before terrorism can end”; “The issue of terrorism is a very complex question”; “The Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians. But it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima, neither of which were military targets” — blah, blah, blah, like all the thinkery that one hears in the faculty lounge.