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From Venice to Clitheroe
Chipping at Church and Mosque Walls

Muslims among us

Sometime this winter an old church in Clitheroe, an old town of northern England, became a mosque.“The narrow vote by the municipal authorities,” the Times reported, “marked the end of a bitter struggle by the tiny Muslim population to establish a place of worship, one that will put a mosque in an imposing stone Methodist church that had been used as a factory since its congregation dwindled away 40 years ago. The battle underscored Britain’s unease with its Muslim minority, and particularly the infiltration of terrorist cells among the faithful, whose devotion has challenged an increasingly secular Britain’s sense of itself.” The story goes on to describe the "struggle," as virtually every newspaper narrative likes to have it (what would the story be if it wasn't a struggle?)—the calls for equality, the letters to the local paper, the celebration of diversity. No, they don't actually use those words in the town of Clitheroe, that unintentionally Nabokovian meld of the words clitoris and urethera that old Vladimir would have considered as pissy a pun as any to hit the shelves since Tom Clancy's rumored sequel to Finnegans Wake.

The more interesting meld regarding the "struggle" at Clitheroe is on display at the Metropolitan Museum in new York where, as Holland Cotter wrote recently,

Told often enough that the West and Islam are natural enemies, we start to believe it, and assume it has always been so. But the Metropolitan Museum of Art argues otherwise in “Venice and the Islamic World, 828-1797,” a show that, with classic Met largesse, recreates the spectacle of two different cultures meeting in one fantastic city, where commerce and love of beauty, those great levelers, unite them in a fruitful bond. At its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries the Most Serene Republic of Venice was a giant, clamorous Costco-on-the-Rialto. All the necessities of life and most of the luxuries flowed into and through it from every direction, and in bulk, filling open-air stalls and salesrooms, piling up on piazzas. Wood, metal, grain, furs and leathers from northern Europe were shipped from Venetian docks to Near Eastern and African cities, many formerly Christian and now Muslim controlled. In return came ultra-refined Islamic luxury goods: Turkish velvets, Egyptian glass, Transcaucasian carpets and Syrian brass work of a quality that matched and exceeded the finest of Europe. Although much of this retail kept moving westward into Italy and beyond, Venice skimmed off the cream to adorn its churches and merchant palaces. And so thoroughly did the city absorb the cultural essences of these imports that it gained a reputation for being the most un-European town in Europe: a floating, glinting pipe dream of a metropolis with a style and a story entirely its own.

The full review...

Venetian ambassadors in Damascus, a 1511 version
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