To be fair, this article really ought to be entitled, “Cultural Center Madness,” because what has been largely lost in the brouhaha over the proposed Park51 Project, formerly known as Cordoba House (artist’s concept above), is the fact that of the 13 floors in the $100 million development—which will house an auditorium, theatre, restaurants, bookstore, art studio, swimming pool, basketball court, gym facilities, space for cooking and language classes, childcare facilities, seminars and lectures—only a relatively small space on the top two floors is being reserved for religious use, and even that isn’t a true mosque, having no minaret or muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. But what the hey? Since when do facts matter in America, and “Mosque Madness” is so much more alliterative!
To detractors it’s the “Ground Zero Mosque,” to supporters it’s “Cordoba House” or “Park51 Community Center,” but the primary objection to this project, whatever it’s called, is that it is to be housed in a building just two blocks from Ground Zero, the former site of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, destroyed by Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001.
But also lost in the muck of politicization is the fact that there is already a mosque just five blocks from Ground Zero, which is one of more than a hundred in New York City and predates the World Trade Center, and that this currently contested space is already being used as a prayer center for some 500 Muslims, since its purchase in 2009.
The other objection seems to be to the original name itself; to historical paranoids like Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker, possible 2012 presidential contender, and one of the most vociferous opponents of the project, the use of the word “Cordoba” is insultingly militant, conjuring images of the Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain, the high-water mark of medieval Islam in Western Europe.
To the developers, who cite the same city as the genesis of the project’s name, the term alludes to the much-vaunted tolerance of the said Caliphate, where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in peaceful cooperation and coexistence for more than 300 years. In a gesture of good faith, in mid-July 2010 developers renamed the project “Park51,” after its Park Place address, but they are not prepared to relocate in that same spirit.
The manufactured controversy has been a highlight of the summer of 2010, an effective tool in rabble-rousing the conservative base preparatory to the November mid-term elections, but how did it begin? The New York Times printed a long front-page story profiling the project and its lead organizer, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, on 9 December 2009, just three months after the site was purchased. There was one TV mention of Cordoba House, when on December 21, 2009, conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham interviewed Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, during a guest host stint of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News. The interview was largely positive, with Khan explaining that the intention of the facility was to serve the residents of the district, of whatever faith, and to build bridges between religions, promoting tolerance and understanding. Ingraham commented ironically at its conclusion: “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it. … I like what you’re trying to do.”
That all changed swiftly after the project was approved in early May 2010. The opposition initially spearheaded by anti-Islamic blogger Pamela Geller, who began with ads on the sides of Manhattan buses depicting planes flying into the WTC juxtaposed with images of the proposed cultural center, and the legend, “Not Here.” Geller’s group, “Stop Islamization of America”, planned protests for May 29, and on May 13 enlisted the support of controversy-promoting New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, after which the Murdoch-owned Post’s sibling, Fox News, got on the bandwagon, taking the story national among conservative circles, and eventually into the mainstream as the long hot summer wore on.
Protests became ugly, but the only legal recourse the opponents had was to attempt to designate the site, a former Burlington Coat Factory damaged by flying plane debris in the 9/11 attacks and vacant since 2001, as a National Historic Landmark, preserving it from demolition and re-development. This legal ploy was defeated August 3, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny the building landmark status, after which time the project’s national profile was considerably raised, and conservative rhetoric became commensurately heated.
Although 71% of Americans expressed opposition to Cordoba House, 53% of Manhattanites, whom the cultural center most immediately impacts, endorse the plan, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly stated his unqualified support:
If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t. I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try to on that piece of property build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it too. What is great about America and particularly New York is we welcome everybody and I just—you know, if we are so afraid of something like this, what does it say about us? Democracy is stronger than this. You know, the ability to practice your religion is the—was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to say no is just, I think, not appropriate is a nice way to phrase it.
On Friday August 13, President Obama came out in support of the constitutionally-protected right to establish places of worship on private property, subject to local zoning regulations, while speaking at a White House iftar banquet breaking the daily fast for Islam’s month-long Ramadan observance.
As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.
On Monday the 16, former house Speaker Newt Gingrich shot back on Fox News that the site was being developed by “radical Islamists” intent on using Cordoba House as a symbol that “they can build a mosque next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by Islamists,” and then upped the rhetorical ante by stating “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington; we would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There is no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”
Imam Rauf, the organizer so blithely labeled “radical” by Gingrich, would likely be surprised to find himself so described, as would the FBI, for whom Rauf consulted in 2003, and George W. Bush, who used him as a roving ambassador for the US in the Mid-East during a 2006 “listening tour” headed by White House advisor Karen Hughes. Imam Rauf was unable to defend himself in person on the charge of his radicalness, being at that very moment on yet another goodwill tour of the Mid-East for the US State Department. Fox News charges that the Imam has accepted funding from terrorist-supporting Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal were somewhat undercut by the fact that Al-Waleed is also the single largest private investor in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, parent company of Fox News, to the tune of $2.3 billion.
Not to be outdone, Sarah Palin put her oar in with a tweeted comment that Sunday:
Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.
After taking time out to explain her creation of the word “refudiate,” complete with self-comparisons to Shakespeare (“’Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”), Palin re-tweeted: “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing,” and then opined, “Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.”
The astrological root of this controversy lies in Pluto’s current transit of the US natal Jupiter and Venus. When Pluto stationed retrograde in April 2010, it did so at 5 Capricorn, exactly conjunct a reality-warping Black Hole and exactly opposed the nation’s Jupiter at 5 Cancer. Jupiter rules organized religions and their sacred spaces, philosophies and belief systems, as well as over-reaction and exaggeration, hyperbole and politics.
The Ground Zero mosque controversy was tailor-made for this transit, and the Black Hole has sucked ever-increasing amounts of energy from the circumstance, not failing to mis-characterize the chief actors, inflate the situation, and blow up the response out of all proportion to the actual provocation, creating a parallel reality where moderate Muslim leaders are portrayed as radical terrorists, and a multi-purpose cultural center is defined by just one small portion of its component parts.
Pluto asks us here to question our own assumptions and prejudices, in an effort to promote greater tolerance and understanding, but the popular response has been heavily weighted on the polar opposite side of fear-mongering, intolerance and attempts at coercion, control and manipulation of the populace.
When matters heated up in early August, Pluto had rolled back to 3 Capricorn, atop another Black Hole, and was now exactly opposed the US natal Venus at 3 Cancer, calling into question our values. The US was founded in religious freedom, but do we only apply that to religions with whose adherents we have no quarrel, or of which we approve? Do we just talk the talk of religious toleration or do we also walk the walk?
It is the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, with yet another Black Hole sandwiched between them at 4 Cancer, which established in this country the principle of religious freedom and diversity, with no state sponsorship of religion, a radical departure (Black Hole) from the prevailing worldview of the time, encouraging the peaceful (Venus) coexistence of rival faiths (Jupiter). Do we still have the courage of the convictions of our founders, or have we become a petty, politicized population, subject to the whims of cynical “statesmen” who divide and polarize us for their own political advantage?
There is an asteroid Corduba (#365), named for the Spanish city which was the capital of the medieval Islamic Caliphate, which can be used to represent Cordoba House and which features prominently at key moments of the controversy and in the natal charts of key players. The potential for this project becoming problematic can be seen as early as the New York Times profile of 9 December 2009, which in itself did not create a stir. On that date asteroid Corduba at 15 Virgo was conjunct a Black Hole at 14 Virgo and squared the Sun at 17 Sagittarius, itself conjoined another Black Hole at 18 Sagittarius.
This combination brings heightened awareness (Sun) of the development project (Corduba), while setting up a latent adversarial relationship (the square aspect between them) and providing the potential for the polarization, alternative viewpoints, and excessive attention or energy investment for which Black Holes are noted. The fact that the article did not at that time grip the nation may be seen in the supportive, benign trine between asteroid Corduba at 15 Virgo and asteroid America (#916) at 13 Capricorn, also reflected in Laura Ingraham’s supportive comments less than two weeks later.
Even more dramatically, Corduba lies at the apex of a Yod, or Finger of Destiny configuration, with inconjunct aspects to both an exact Jupiter/Chiron conjunction at 22 Aquarius and TNO Eris at 20 Aries retrograde. Although rather loose in orb, the seeds of the conflict are plain to see in this pattern—Cordoba House (Corduba) as the focus (apex) of a religiously-based, political (both Jupiter) wounding (Chiron) and a strife-ridden, discordant, divisive squabble (Eris). Add in Uranus roughly opposed Corduba from 22 Pisces, and the potential for an explosive reaction directed at elements perceived to be “alien” is clear.
When landmark status for the site was rejected on August 3, allowing the project to move forward, a similar Yod pertained. Corduba at 24 Virgo is now conjunct another Black Hole at 25 Virgo, and the US Neptune and Obama’s natal Mars, both at 22 Virgo, as well as transit Venus at 26 Virgo, which now incorporates a square to the Galactic Center at 26 Sagittarius, taking the story to a global audience.
The conjunction with Venus indicates the positive ruling, which allows fund-raising for the project, another Venus attribute, to accelerate; the conjunction with the nation’s Neptune foretells the increased fear-mongering and deceptive, mass mind-control tactics about to be employed by opponents, while that with Obama’s Mars indicates his upcoming advocacy and support for the rights of the developers. All these points lie at the apex of a Yod, much closer in orb this time, comprising inconjuncts to transit Neptune and Chiron at 27 and 29 Aquarius, and Eris at 22 Aries. We see again a wounding (Chiron) based in conflicting (Eris) spiritual approaches (Neptune), and a reinforcement of the themes of deception and fear-mongering (Neptune).
At this time, further astrological factors combined to promote a frenzied froth in the American electorate. Transit asteroids America and Agita (#4392) have been slowly approaching conjunction, which will be perfected in early November, just after the mid-term elections, when both asteroids station retrograde conjunct each other and the Black Hole at 4 Cancer which punctuates the nation’s Venus/Jupiter conjunction—a recipe for increased voter discontent based in economic anxiety if ever there was one. But to our purpose, asteroid Agita in the lead, representing agitation, stress, upset and gut feelings, conjoined the US Uranus at 8 Gemini in late July, with asteroid America following close behind on August 12-13, just as Obama made his statement. These repeated activations of the nation’s Uranus work to further agitate and excite the populace, promoting a febrile, nervous energy and radical, shoot-from-the-hip, unconsidered responses.
When Obama made his iftar remarks on August 13, America and Agita were just seven degrees apart, at 9 and 16 Gemini respectively, with TNO Chaos between them at 13 Gemini, exactly semisextile the US Sun at 13 Cancer. And exactly atop this Sun was asteroid Barry (#1703), for Barack Obama (the name by which he was known in his youth), perfectly reflecting in his statement the principles upon which the nation was founded, and which define us (Sun). Asteroid Corduba at 27 Virgo has now moved into perfect inconjunct with Neptune in the Yod configuration, and transit Uranus has retrograded back into opposition to Corduba from 29 Pisces, providing the further explosive spark for a nationwide conflagration.
Newt Gingrich’s cynical exploitation of the situation is obvious from his birth chart. Born 17 June 1943, asteroid Corduba is exactly conjoined Newt’s natal Saturn at 17 Gemini, both of which, moreover, trine the nation’s Saturn at 14 Libra and the US Corduba at 17 Libra. Gingrich definitely sees the Cordoba House incident as central to his career goals (his natal Saturn), which include a run for the presidency (the US Saturn), and his uber-conservative, rabidly Islamophobic stance on this issue is calculated to endear him to the GOP base preparatory to a primary campaign where he may be viewed as overly intellectual and compromised by a chequered marital history.
With the Sun at 25 Gemini conjunct asteroid Kassandra, Newt struggles with being accepted and believed as a true conservative among the Party base, who are inclined to view his utterances with some degree of skepticism. His radical, incendiary views on the Cordoba House issue grant him street cred with a sector of the electorate vital to his success in gaining the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Palin’s (born 11 February 1964) Corduba, too, is bound to her career. At 20 Scorpio retrograde, asteroid Corduba is conjoined natal Neptune at 17 Scorpio, and squared a Sun/Mars/Saturn conjunction at 21, 23 and 25 Aquarius. Not unmindful of the need to burnish her conservative credentials so as to maintain future career options, Palin nevertheless couched her objections in a tone more geared toward empathizing with the pain caused to 9/11 victims, directed at “peaceful” Muslims and New Yorkers, all of which aptly reflects her Corduba’s conjunction with Neptune, in square to Saturn (career).
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (born 14 February 1942) natal Corduba at 11 Aquarius falls midway between his Venus at 7 Aquarius and Mercury at 15 Aquarius, which conjoins a Pulsar, making him a leading advocate (Mercury) in the media (Pulsar) for peaceful acceptance and tolerance (Venus) of the project. Natal Mars at 17 Taurus lies in square, denoting Bloomberg’s leadership in championing the cause, while he also sports an exact Jupiter/Logos conjunction at 11 Gemini in exact trine to asteroid Corduba, indicative of a supportive (trine), reasoned and rational (both Logos) political (Jupiter) response to this religiously-based (also Jupiter) imbroglio.
President Barack Obama’s (born 4 August 1961) natal Corduba at 3 Taurus is in a very powerful position, filling in a T-Square composed of Mercury at 2 Leo, Neptune at 8 Scorpio, and Jupiter at 0 Aquarius retrograde, to form a Grand Cross. His advocacy (Mercury) could ultimately prove a point of personal weakness (Neptune), undermining his political fortunes (Jupiter). Already nearly a quarter of the electorate believe him to be a practicing Muslim (despite the controversy during the campaign over his Christian pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright), with another third unsure of his religious leanings, and these numbers are likely to rise as he expresses support for the project’s founders. Corduba is also sextile Obama’s Venus at 1 Cancer and his Chiron at 5 Pisces, exactly semisextile the 3 Gemini Moon and trine the 6 Virgo Pluto, and is thus bound up with many facets of his life, suggesting a pervasive effect for him from the Cordoba House incident.
Whatever the final outcome, the Ground Zero Mosque controversy depicts an ugly scar on the national psyche, an intolerance and fear of the other that has always been a part of our identity, but which we had hoped to grow beyond. With anti-Islamic wounds dating from the 1979 Iran hostage crisis reopened by the September 11 attacks and the Bush administration’s ginning up of jingoistic sentiments in two wars against Muslim nations, and now freshly goaded by cynically opportunistic politicians for their own ends, the public reaction to the Cordoba House project exposes the raw underbelly of American xenophobia and religious bigotry. It is not a pretty sight.