Cordoba House and the Power of Political Marketing

If it was called the "Burlington Coat Factory community center" would anyone care about Cordoba House?

Much of what comes to mind about the proposed Cordoba House Islamic community center includes things that have been said repeatedly, so I will try not to belabor them.  For example (given that I feel the need to underscore this despite the number of times is has been said):  I am saddened by the blatant disregard that so many of my fellow citizens have for both freedom of religion and private property rights, not to mention the calls by so-called small government conservatives for government action in this case.  Further, and most disappointing of all, is the blatant politics of bigotry that permeates this entire discussion.*

And, one more dead horse to beat:  the notion that it is a good argument (or, indeed, as argument at all) to say things like “when Saudi Arabia allows a church near Mecca, then we can talk about a mosque near Ground Zero” is utterly absurd that it ought to be laughed off the public stage.  And yet, somehow, supposedly smart and serious politicians like Newt Gingrich have decided that the United States of America ought to use Saudi Arabia as a measuring stick on the topic of religious liberty.  What next, North Korea as a model for economic development?

Look, I understand an initial gut reaction of not liking the idea of “Ground Zero mosque” but the current hysteria in some quarters on this topic have precious little to do with passing reactions.

Ok, enough will all of that, one of the other things that strikes me is the degree to which the mantra of “Ground Zero mosque” is a remarkable example of political marketing insofar as it is a phrase that generates a specific political reaction and has taken over the discussion of the topic in question.

The bottom line is:  we are not talking about a mosque, per se and it isn’t being built at Ground Zero and yet the phrase that describes the entire situation is “Ground Zero mosque.”

As should be well known by now, the site of the proposed construction is two blocks from where the WTC stood and, in part, was once occupied by a Burlington Coat Factory (sacred ground, indeed).  Here’s a photo of the building in question:  click.

However, because the business of news and politics is one of shorthand communication, almost everyone has fallen into the trap of calling this thing “the Ground Zero mosque” as it is the most recognizable way to describe the place/issue.  Sure, some people modify the term with “so-called” or they places scare quotes around the words (indeed, I think I have used a month’s quota of scare quotes in this post), but in general people almost universally call it the “Ground Zero mosque.”  If one calls it Cordoba House, for example, a lot of people probably wouldn’t know what was being referred to (indeed, it would make for an interesting polling experiment to see what public sentiment is for the “Ground Zero mosque” and to also see what public support is for “Cordoba House.”)  Most Americans, if they have an association with the word “Cordoba” at all it is probably with the Chrysler Cordoba with its legendary Corinthian leather as much as anything else.**

Still, the evocation of the phrase in question makes the public think we are talking about an actual Islamic house of worship on the very site where the WTC once stood.  This would be odd for a variety of reasons (not the least of which being that a memorial is supposed to be built there as well as a new office building).  As such, it is hardly surprising that there is majority opposition to the building.  However, if it was called the “Burlington Coat Factory mosque” I reckon that most people would hardly care.

Worse, of course (if one is interested in such petty things as accuracy), the building in question is not simply a mosque, which in the minds of most Americans likely conjures minarets and other architectural features that would be considered perhaps out of place in the cityscape of Manhattan.  Instead, we know that the proposed building is a typical NYC high-rise that is unlikely to be especially noteworthy vis-à-vis the other building around it.  Further, as has been oft-noted, the proposed building is a community center that will contain within it a place of worship (i.e., a mosque) but it is not, in and of itself, a mosque.

So, to extent the more accurate description, what we have is a “Burlington Coat Factory community center” rather than a “Ground Zero mosque”—no small difference, I would note.

Another issue that I think fuels a lot of pubic opinion on this issue is also the lack of understanding of urban life in a place like NYC.  Yes, a lot of American live in cities, but most do not live in the urban density of a place like NYC with is made-made mountains of steel and concrete compacted into every city block.  In such a situation a city block, let alone two, can pack in a remarkable amount of diversity with each block sometimes it own microcosm.  Two blocks in suburbia is quite different from two blocks in lower Manhattan.   Such a reality further undercuts the notion that Cordoba House should be associated with the the WTC site.

If anything, there is quite a but here to study for people who research things like political rhetoric and public opinion.

I would also note that given the current economic climate, the idea that a group is interested in a $100 million+ investment to improve part of city block and create jobs and such in that area strikes me as a good thing and indeed was the kind of private initiate that I used think of as being what center-right conservatives in this country would applaud.

*And as been pointed out in a number of place (such as Doug Mataconis noted today here), the truth of the matter is that there are a number of people out there who are not just protesting Cordoba house in terms of mosque construction.

**Granted it depends on one’s age.

FILED UNDER: Islam, Religion, US Politics, ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Mark says:

    I posted earlier to the Mataconis post you referenced. It is appropriate here as well. In the interest of full disclosure it was pointed out to me the is a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor, however it was established in 1920. From earlier:
    “Reading this leads one who has done research and study on the subject of Islam including the more violent, later verses in the Quran that take precedence due to abrogation, amazed.
    A cursory review of writings of just a couple of governmental giants in western history, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill, on the topic of Islam would prove enlightening too. There is no lack of current well-researched and written information about Islam and its political and societal strategy.
    There is no cure for the willful blindness displayed by proponents and supporters of this sham. It is planned two blocks away from Ground Zero because they could not find property any closer. Since I am sure you are aware of the Islamic history of building mosques as a symbol of domination and victory then you must recognize the symbolism of this facility. The selection of the name Cordoba House was no historical coincidence either. Read the words of the founder of the facility.
    In fact, the Islamic “faith” is a totalitarian and brutal political system wrapped in the cloth of religion. We are under no obligation to have our own graciousness and tolerance to be used against us by people and a strategy that wishes us subjugated, any more that we were obliged to allow our ships to be hijacked in Jefferson’s times in the name of Islam by the Barbary pirates.
    A parallel thought: If the Japanese had proposed the building of a massive Shinto shrine overlooking the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, do you think it would have been well received in 1951 or 2001 for that matter? The correct answer is “no”, and it would be of no value nor would it prove a symbol of healing.
    We as a nation are being assaulted by a well planned, well funded assault on our principals and our freedoms. Make no mistake; this mosque is a small part of a larger plan. The evidence is there if you open your eyes, look, and think.
    Regarding Obama’s position, he has stated his views and his allegiance with both his words and his actions.”

  2. tps says:

    Juan Williams had a good take on this: Williams said that the proposed mosque and the imam’s actions are “a thumb in the eye to so many people who lost their lives and went through the trauma there. It’s not promoting dialogue or understanding. In fact, it’s polarizing. So it’s not achieving his stated goal. And for that reason, I just think he’s wrong to do it.”

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Taylor, are you aware of the Islamic practice of building a Mosque at the site of victories?  Do you see any end with the battle against radical (?) Islam?  Are you in favor of letting our enemies use our laws against us?  Are all freedoms absolute?  Do you think it is right to ask tolerance of us when they have none towards us?  Are you an American or someone who just lives here?

  4. Yes, Zels:  the magic victory over the Burlington Coat Factory.  Oh, the glory!

  5. PT says:

    since 1970… http://www.masjidmanhattan.com/… time travelling terrorist it seems.

  6. Peter van der Vliet says:

    The Cordoba Jewish community of Hasdai’s time, situated near the alcazar, southwest of the city, was wealthy and vibrant. But the situation would soon change. In 1013, the Berbers laid siege to Cordoba and the city entered into a process of gradual decline, marked by occasional periods of glory. In later years, another famous native of Cordoba, Moses Maimonides, would flee the city, forced out by the ferocity of Almohade persecutions. In 1483, Jews were exiled from Andalusia.

    Almohade was muslim, and so were the Berbers, conquerors of the Islam. Therefore, the choice of the name CORDOBA and of the place – 9/11 – raises some serious questions, if not red flags, about the intentions there behind. It sounds like this is a new kind of siege and possibly vvictory for the islamists all over the World, 1000 years later !

  7. Peter van der Vliet says:

    Long story short : if we want to be a Country of Tolerance, we should be able to protect us against the invasion of intolerance. Tolerance : yes – Stupidity : NO !

  8. @PT:  The worst kind!

     

    But, it looks like they are 4 or 5 blocks from the WTC site, so all is well, I guess.

  9. In re: the conquer argument, see here:  Professor Newt’s Distorted History Lesson

     

  10. Peter van der Vliet says:

    Professor Newt’s Distorted History Lesson is very interesting but just reveals that there is a kind of duality in what’s historically behind the name of “Cordoba”. The Berbers and Almohade, who also ruled the city after, were intolerant conquerors of the Islam. The question is : is this duality not a duplicity, when the name is used under the present particular circumstances ? Millions of islamists out there will interpretate their way : will this not become the victory of intolerance over tolerance, a victory that will rally thousands of undecided muslims to their jihad? 1 or 5 blocks closer or further does not matter much seen form thousands of miles away.

  11. I can say this:  jihadists will win a far larger PR win via protests and blocking of the construction of the mosque (which will just “prove” their contention that the West is opposed to Islam) than anything thing they might can get from the construction of said building.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    “Regarding Obama’s position, he has stated his views and his allegiance with both his words and his actions.”

    So when will the impeachment proceedings begin?  I mean, clearly he has now proven himself to be a traitor…

  13. Liandro says:

    I am highly uncomfortable with what the building of this “community center”, and I am highly dubious of their stated purpose in building it where they chose.  Go ahead and have fun with the conservatives, Dr. Taylor…I haven’t followed the controversy well enough to comment on everything people have been saying.  But I have no qualms saying that this building, and how it is being gone about, rubs me the wrong way.  Unity and peace indeed.
     
    I presume, from the tone of your post, that you have no problem with this?  It is in complete good taste, and completely worthy of support?  Shoot, I didn’t even support the building of my local Wal-mart, but I’m guessing our standards are quite a bit different.

  14. Peter van der Vliet says:

    An insult may not be perceived as such by the People that’s insulted, if their standards are different than the ones of the offender. What would happen if we decided to build a cathedral near Mecca ? More precisely, what would happen to those in Saudi Arabia that would apply for that type of project at the local authorities ? What would be the purpose of a cathedral near Mecca, in the mind of the promoters ? Is this Cordoba operation not a gigantic slap in our face ? Why not have that “Cordoba” center built in Saudi Arabia, near Mecca, and open it to religious and philosophs or scholars of all kinds ?

  15. sam says:

    @Peter van der Vliet

    ” In 1483, Jews were exiled from Andalusia.”

    Actually, it was a Catholic, Queen Isabella, who did that:

    “In the spring of 1492, shortly after the Moors were driven out of Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain expelled all the Jews from their lands and thus, by a stroke of the pen, put an end to the largest and most distinguished Jewish settlement in Europe. The expulsion of this intelligent, cultured, and industrious class was prompted only in part by the greed of the king and the intensified nationalism of the people who had just brought the crusade against the Muslim Moors to a glorious close. The real motive was the religious zeal of the Church, the Queen, and the masses. The official reason given for driving out the Jews was that they encouraged the Marranos to persist in their Jewishness and thus would not allow them to become good Christians.

    “The following account gives a detailed and accurate picture of the expulsion and its immediate consequences for Spanish Jewry. It was written in Hebrew by an Italian Jew in April or May, 1495:

    “And in the year 5252 [1492], in the days of King Ferdinand, the Lord visited the remnant of his people a second time [the first Spanish visitation was in 1391], and exiled them. After the King had captured the city of Granada from the Moors, and it had surrendered to him on the 7th [2d] of January of the year just mentioned, he ordered the expulsion of all the Jews in all parts of his kingdom-in the kingdoms of Castile, Catalonia, Aragon, Galicia, Majorca, Minorca, the Basque provinces, the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and the kingdom of Valencia. Even before that the Queen had expelled them from the kingdom of Andalusia [1483].”

    Jewish History Sourcebook [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/1492-jews-spain1.html]

  16. Jim Treacher says:

    Which part of my comment was worthy of deletion? Is it not true that part of the landing gear of one of the planes went through the Burlington Coat Factory?

  17. Jim,

    Your comment may have gotten caught up in the DNS problems we seemed to be experiencing today…..

  18. @Jim: A lot of comments are getting lost today. And I am getting some (although not yours or Doug’s, for that matter) via e-mail that aren’t showing up here.

  19. Peter van der Vliet says:

    @sam

    The Jews of Cordoba were persecuted by the muslims, then exiled by the christians.The subject was, as you know, what’s behind the name of “Cordoba”. Islam is also the religion of duplicity, part of the arsenal of their “holy” wars. While islamists go one step futher towards extreme, with mass murdering and brain washing…

  20. Peter van der Vliet says:

    @sam

    The Jews of Cordoba were persecuted by the muslims, then exiled by the christians.The subject was, as you know, what’s behind the name of “Cordoba”. Islam is also the religion of duplicity, part of the arsenal of their “holy” wars. While islamists go one step futher towards extreme, with mass murdering and brain washing…

    The center can be built, this is not the question. The question is where should it be built, and what is it’s official purpose and it’s real purpose.

    This question is crucial, because the legality of the project is based on that.

    Their Imam was offered another place and insisted to keep that one, against a tsunami of protests. There are already 2 mosques in the neighborhood, and the purpose of his project, as stated officially on his website at cordobainitiative org is : “Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that works with state and non-state actors to improve Muslim-West relations. In this capacity, he directs projects that aim to heal conflict between Islamic and Western communities …”

    Well, we expect the Imam to take notice of the massive rejection by the People of the United State of America, a Western Country, and we are sure that he will be intelligent enough to understand that its purpose being wrecked now, the project does not deserve its purpose, it’s time to change it to “heal the conflict that it has created between western and Islamic communities”.

    On a more legal standpoint, the project holds its legality afer the “New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously denied landmark status for the building”. This opinion goes against an overwhelming majority of citizens of this Country, the decision and the rules on which it is based, if any, should be revised to be in accordance, the decision voided and the project suspended.

    You certainly know that Democracy comes from the greek “demos” the people, and “cratos” the power. The Power of the People, that’s what creates the Law in a Democracy, not the contrary.

  21. Peter van der Vliet says:

    @sam

    The Jews of Cordoba were persecuted by the muslims, then exiled by the christians.The subject was, as you know, what’s behind the name of “Cordoba”. Islam is also the religion of duplicity, part of the arsenal of their “holy” wars. While islamists go one step futher towards extreme, with mass murdering and brain washing…

    The center can be built, this is not the question. The question is where should it be built, and what is its official purpose and its real purpose.

    This question is crucial, because the legality of the project is based on that.

    Their Imam was offered another place and insisted to keep that one, against a tsunami of protests. There are already 2 mosques in the neighborhood, and the purpose of his project, as stated officially on his website at cordobainitiative org is : “Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that works with state and non-state actors to improve Muslim-West relations. In this capacity, he directs projects that aim to heal conflict between Islamic and Western communities …”

    Well, we expect the Imam to take notice of the massive rejection by the People of the United State of America, a Western Country, and we are sure that he will be intelligent enough to understand that its purpose being wrecked now, the project does not deserve its purpose, it’s time to change it to “heal the conflict that it has created between western and Islamic communities”.

    On a more legal standpoint, the project holds its legality afer the “New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously denied landmark status for the building”. This opinion goes against an overwhelming majority of citizens of this Country, the decision and the rules on which it is based, if any, should be revised to be in accordance, the decision voided and the project suspended.

    You certainly know that Democracy comes from the greek “demos” the people, and “cratos” the power. The Power of the People, that’s what creates the Law in a Democracy, not the contrary.

  22. Peter van der Vliet says:

    PS : sorry for the duplicae posting, there seem to be some technical problems….

  23. mantis says:

    The Jews of Cordoba were persecuted by the muslims, then exiled by the christians.The subject was, as you know, what’s behind the name of “Cordoba”. Islam is also the religion of duplicity, part of the arsenal of their “holy” wars. While islamists go one step futher towards extreme, with mass murdering and brain washing…

    Interesting revisionist history. The Jews were actually welcomed in Moorish Spain, and the Jews of Iberia welcomed the invading Muslims, aiding in their conquest. This is because of the brutal persecution of the Jews by the Christian Visigoths. In fact, one of the chief councillor of Abd ar-Rahman III, the first independent Caliph of Córdoba, was a Jew: Hasdai ibn Shaprut.

    The Christian Visigoths in power in Spain imposed a series of punishments for Jews and the practice of Jewish rituals, followed by forceful expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The Moors were a liberating force and their arrival prompted a large influx of Jewish immigration into Spain.

    So not only do you get your timeline wrong (exiled by Christians first, then ruled by Muslims), but your knowledge of what happened under Muslim rule and the meaning of Cordoba is twisted and wrong.

    Reconquista saw better treatment of the Jews, for a time, as it was important for the Church to have as many allies as possible against the Muslims. However, by the 13th century the Christian oppression of the Spanish Jews was renewed, and the 14th century saw a series of massacres against Jews, and many new laws imposed against them. The next century brought the Inquisition, and I think we all know how the Jews fared then.

    The Power of the People, that’s what creates the Law in a Democracy, not the contrary.

    We are not a pure democracy, and with good reason. Pure democracy inevitably leads to a tyranny of the majority, which is exactly what you propose here. Ignoring the Constitution and restricting the practice of religion is unAmerican, no matter what religion it is or how large a majority opposes it. It’s the most fundamental principle upon which our nation is built, but given you’re incredibly weak grasp of history I doubt you even realize that.

  24. Miguel Madeira says:

    “The Cordoba Jewish community of Hasdai’s time, situated near the alcazar, southwest of the city, was wealthy and vibrant.”

    Under muslim rulers (muslims conquered Iberia in 8th century).

  25. mantis says:

    Under muslim rulers (muslims conquered Iberia in 8th century).

    Yep. And they were welcomed, and aided in their conquest, by Jews and others who were sick of the murderous persecution of their Christian Visigoth rulers at the time.