9/11, Ground Zero mosque, Babri and their symbolism

The controversy  over the construction of an Islamic Centre near New York’s Ground Zero has got  everyone excited. Media, bloggers, activists and even president Obama have  jumped in and out of the fray, with those opposing the centre being labeled  “fascists” by the liberal media.

The right way to  understand the controversy is through its symbolism. September 11, 2001, (9/11)  was the first major terror attack on US soil. 

There’s symbolism  in this date. Apart from 911 being an emergency dial-up number, September 11,  1683, was the date on which a Christian army defeated the Muslims in the Battle of Vienna. The battle was won by Polish, Austrian and German forces  commanded by the King of Poland, against an army of the Ottoman Empire  commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. The importance of this  date could not have been lost on those who planned the 9/11 attack — an attack  to defeat Christian America!

The Islamic Centre  at Ground Zero was initially proposed to be called ‘Cordoba House’. Cordoba  (Muslim Qurdubah) is a city in Spain that symbolized Islam’s inroads into the  Christian world. The Arabs conquered the Iberian peninsula in the early eighth  century and the St Vincent Church was torn down and replaced with one of the  largest mosques of Islam. When the Christians reconquered Cordoba in 1236 they  converted the structure into a Cathedral and set up an altar in the middle. In  the 16th century it was given its current look. 
This is why even Christians who have not opposed the construction of mosques  earlier are upset about Cordoba House.

They understand the  significance of why Muslims (subliminally) want a mosque at Ground Zero. 9/11  is perceived as an Islamic attempt to take revenge for the loss in the Battle  of Vienna, among other things. 

Naming the building  ‘Cordoba House’ reminds the Americans of the 800-year Muslim rule over Spain,  just as two pilgrim places in north India do — the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and  the Krishna Janmabhumi. The original Kashi Vishwanath Temple was destroyed by Aurangzeb and even today you see the Gyanvapi mosque standing on  the old temple platform behind the current temple built by Ahilyabai Holkar  (1780). The two domes of the temple were covered by gold donated by Maharaja  Ranjit Singh (1839). At the Krishna Janmabhumi in Mathura, too, there is a  mosque.

Just as these two  temples have enormous symbolic significance for Hindu devotees, the symbolism  of an Islamic Centre so close to Ground Zero can be a painful memory for those  who lost dear ones on 9/11, and for those who understand the symbolism of that  date. Constructing a mosque near where the Twin Towers stood is a reminder to  the traumas of 9/11.

The supporters of  the Ground Zero mosque have made the following arguments in their favor. One,  it would promote inter-faith understanding between Muslims and the majority  Christian community. It would be a blow to all fascist Muslims who proclaim  that the US is anti-Muslim. It might result in fewer American Muslims taking to  terror and make society more inclusive. It also affirms every American’s  constitutional right to religion and its propagation. 

Opponents to Ground  Zero could counter these by saying the mosque might be, in the Muslim mind, a  symbol of Muslim victory over the Christian west and America in particular. The  mosque will be on the same lines as the Babri Masjid in India, the Dome of the  Rock in Jerusalem and the Salimya mosque in Istanbul.
  A few questions arise: when it comes to inter-faith understanding and  pluralism, why do liberals living in democracies repeat these words as gospel  but rarely use them when it comes to non-Muslims living in Muslim majority  countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Indian state of  J&K?

More importantly,  Cordoba House is an attempt to rewrite history. One hundred years from now  Americans will only see the mosque, and the Twin Towers will be distant memory.  Two hundred years later, Americans might doubt if the Twin Towers ever existed.  Babar’s general similarly attempted to rewrite history by destroying the Ram  Temple at Ayodhya. If the temple had existed, no Indian court or political  party would have doubt the existence of Sri Ram!

Some liberals may  wonder why the past is so important when there are more pressing concerns in  the present. When posed with a similar question, Swami Vivekananda said:  “Nowadays everybody blames those who constantly look back to their past. It is  said that so much of looking back to the past is the cause of all of India’s  foes. So long as they forgot the past, the Hindu nation remained in a state of  stupor and as soon as they have begun to look into their past, there is on  every side a fresh manifestation of life. It is out of this past that the  future has to be moulded”.

First published in DNA 

Receive Site Updates