Depending on whether Islamists address Americans or fellow Muslims, the same exact words they use often relay diametrically opposed meanings. One example: when Americans hear Muslims evoke “justice,” the former envision Western-style justice, whereas Muslims naturally have Sharia law justice in mind.
Islamists obviously use this to their advantage: when addressing the West, Osama bin Laden bemoans the “justice of our causes, particularly Palestine”; yet, when addressing Muslims, his notion of justice far transcends territorial disputes and becomes unintelligible from a Western perspective: “Battle, animosity, and hatred — directed from the Muslim to the infidel — is the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them. The West perceives fighting, enmity, and hatred all for the sake of the religion [i.e., Islam] as unjust, hostile, and evil. But who’s understanding is right — our notions of justice and righteousness, or theirs?” (Al Qaeda Reader, p. 43).
Of course, that Osama bin Laden — slayer of 3,000 Americans and avowed enemy to the rest — exhibits two faces, one to Americans another to Muslims, is not surprising. Yet the reader may well be surprised to discover that the controversial Cordoba Initiative, which plans on manifesting itself as the largest American mosque, situated atop Ground Zero — that is, atop the carnage caused by none other than bin Laden — also has two faces, conveying one thing to Americans, quite another to Muslims.
The very name of the initiative itself, “Cordoba,” offers different connotations to different people: In the West, the Andalusian city of Cordoba is regularly touted as the model of medieval Muslim progressiveness and tolerance for Christians and Jews. To many Americans, then, the choice to name the mosque “Cordoba” is suggestive of rapprochement and interfaith dialogue; atop the rubble of 9/11, it implies “healing” — a new beginning between Muslims and Americans. The Cordoba Initiative’s mission statement certainly suggests as much:
Cordoba Initiative 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.
Oddly enough, the so-called “tolerant” era of Cordoba supposedly occurred during the caliphate of ‘Abd al-Rahman III (912-961) — well over a thousand years ago. “Eight hundred years ago,” i.e., around 1200, the fanatical Almohids — ideological predecessors of al-Qaeda — were ravaging Cordoba, where “Christians and Jews were given the choice of conversion, exile, or death.” A Freudian slip on the part of the Cordoba Initiative?
In fact, the true history of Cordoba, not to mention the whole of Andalusia, is far less inspiring than what Western academics portray: the Christian city was conquered by Muslims around 711, its inhabitants slaughtered or enslaved. The original mosque of Cordoba — the namesake of the Ground Zero mosque — was built atop, and partly from the materials of, a Christian church. Modern day Muslims are well aware of all this. Such is the true — and ominous — legacy of Cordoba.