My fourth grade teacher, Ethel Hannah, was almost a stereotypical old maid school teacher, the kind our country populated our little one-room country schools with from the 19th century well into the 20th, expected much from and often treated like domestic servants with low pay. The legacy still lingers in our education system today.
I owe Miss Hannah much. She taught me to love learning, especially math. When I got behind on homework, she let me use both her stubby old red pencil and the math answer book, to grade my own massive makeup assignments. Miss Hannah was magical. Except for once.
One dreadful day, each of us students was given a large blank sheet of paper we called “butcher paper” because that’s what the butcher wrapped your steaks in before handing them to you. We were told to draw a map of the world, from memory. I couldn’t even come close. Eventually, however, I stopped dreading geography and now like it well enough to write about it.
This column is a look at a part of Europe which has a firm grip on the history of our own country, the Iberian Peninsula. The name is thought to come from people who lived along a major river there, the Ebros. It is sometimes called Iberia. Sound familiar? The peninsula is surrounded on three sides by water, the Mediterranean on the south and southeast, and on the north, west, and southwest by the Atlantic.
There are three countries there, Spain, Portugal and tiny Andorra, lost in the Pyrenees. There are three official languages, Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in all three countries.
None of these three countries matter very much in current world affairs. Spain and Portugal were important once as major sea powers in South America, where both countries founded colonies. Portugal got Brazil, left Portuguese behind as the official language, while Spain got almost all the rest of the continent and left Spanish. Andorra, with just 181 square miles and 84 thousand people, drew 10.2 million tourists last year. Spain is our focus.
Spain matters the most because part of her history seems to have re-emerged in current events. In AD 711, Islamic invaders came from Africa, entered Spain at Gibralter, and from the Eighth Century through the 15th, controlled much of Iberia. This is where it gets interesting.
A major city in Spain captured by the Muslim invaders was Córdoba. As was their custom, Islamic armies built a mosque where their triumphant battle was won. They destroyed the Catholic Church of St. Vincent, built in AD 600, and constructed over its ruins what was to become the third largest mosque in all Europe. It was a symbol of their conquest and domination of the original inhabitants. Córdoba.
Fast forward to 9/11 and consider what happened then. Today, what used to be the World Trade Center is now often referred to as Ground Zero. Rebuilding what had been there is rapidly taking place, because we recognize the important symbolism of the Trade Center to America. The Islamic terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center understood its symbolism too; that’s why they chose it.
Have you heard of what is commonly referred to as the Ground Zero Mosque? It’s not a name the Muslims who are constructing this planned 13-story Islamic community center two blocks from where the World Trade Center was, prefer. They call it Park 51, taken from the street where it is located. The Muslims don’t like that much better. But the enormous controversy that has arisen over its construction forced a change in its name.
Its proponents have said the center will promote interfaith dialogue. Maybe so. But at the beginning, it was called the Córdoba Project. I wonder why.