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Following is the supposed origin of the “Cordoba House” concept that has evolved into a proposed project now called Park51 — what some have characterized as the Ground Zero Mosque. What follows is false. Read this background from Wikipedia under Park51, and then below is the real story, and some of my pictures from the place behind the name Cordoba.

“Cordoba Initiative said the name “Cordoba House” was meant to invoke 8th–11th century Córdoba, Spain, which they called a model of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.[26][35][35] According to The Economist, the name was chosen because Muslims, Jews and Christians created a center of learning in Córdoba together.[26] The name was criticized; for example, Newt Gingrich said that it was a “a deliberately insulting term” which symbolizes the Muslim conquerors’ victory over Christian Spaniards, and noted that the Muslims had converted a Cordoba church into the third largest mosque in the world.[38][47] Similarly, Raymond Ibrahim, a former associate director of the Middle East Forum, said the project and name were not “a gesture of peace and interfaith dialogue” but were “allusive of Islamic conquest and consolidation” and that Americans should realize that mosques are not “Muslim counterparts to Christian churches” but rather, “are symbols of domination and centers of radicalization.” The opposition to Park51 believes that Islam builds mosques on “conquered territory” as symbols of “victory” and “conquest.”[48] The structure itself is named “Park51,” after the location’s address at 51 Park Place,[49][50] while the Cordoba Initiative’s part of it is called Cordoba House.[45][51]”

Here are the facts. The Grand Mosque of Cordoba, popularly called the Mesquita, stands on the site of a Roman temple, and uses some remnants of the temple in its construction. The Visigoths, an early Christian sect, built their religious building on the site. Remnants of their construction endure as well. Then the Muslims conquered much of Spain and the Grand Mosque was built over a period of centuries. Yes, the city of Cordoba became a great center of learning under Muslim rule, with one of the world’s greatest libraries, and became one of the densest cities in Europe. Yes, Jews and Christians lived and worked alongside the Muslims, but they were required by the Muslims to pay for the privilege, under penalty of death. It was anything but a level ethnic playing field. Then, after the long Reconquista, concluding with the Catholic Inquisition, the Muslims were systematically expelled from Spain and Cordoba by the Christians, as were the Jews. Charles the Fifth of Spain built a grand Catholic Cathedral in the very center of the expansive Mesquita, though he later said he regretted disfiguring the Mosque, and the Catholic Church controls the site today.

Thus, “Cordoba” has a mixed history that represents anything but peaceful co-existence among the religions, and also is anything but a symbol of dominance by any particular religion over time, except perhaps the Christians. In fact, Cordoba might be a symbol of the reconciliation that is now so sorely missing among the foolish religious factions of contemporary society. When we visited the Mesquita and took these photos in 2008, we were impressed with how arrogant both Christians and Muslims have been with their respective symbols of power on the very same piece of earth. Only the Jews, seemingly forever persecuted wherever they have gone, despite their many contributions to the past intellectual life of Cordoba, seem free of the sins of vanity and prejudice exhibited over time by Christians and Muslims at Cordoba. P.S. And who thought Newt Gingrich knew history?

It’s the birthday of Samuel Johnson, born in Lichfield, England (1709). When he was 54 years old, he was in the back parlor of his friend Tom Davies’ bookshop in London, and he was introduced to a 23-year-old Scotsman named James Boswell, who had been trying to meet Johnson for quite a while. Johnson was intensely suspicious of Scottish people, and found Boswell annoying. But eventually they became good friends.

For years, Boswell kept notes on Johnson’s mannerisms, habits, decisions, thoughts, appearance, and everything about his life. In the meantime, Samuel Johnson had a great career. He wrote essays and sketches for magazines, poems, and biographies. And then a group of publishers asked him to create a definitive dictionary of the English language, and he accepted the challenge. The French equivalent, compiled by the AcadémieFrançaise, was slotted to take 40 years and was being created by 40 scholars. The French took six years just to work on the letter “G.” In contrast, Johnson announced that he could single-handedly do the entire project in three years.

He didn’t manage it quite that fast — it took him seven years — and he did have six mechanical assistants. But it was still a huge undertaking. Published in 1775, it had more than 42,000 entries.

Johnson’s dictionary made him famous, and it is his most long-lasting achievement. But he is best remembered not for anything he wrote, but for the biography that Boswell wrote about him. Published after its subject’s death, Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) is considered the precursor to modern biographies because it was the first to truly describe its subject as a whole person, not just a catalog of achievements and events.

To learn more about Johnson, read my essay, “Samuel Johnson and His Clubbable Friends.” Go to, click on “Roll of Members,” click on “E,” then go to my name, Charles Ebeling, and click on title of essay.

September 2010

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