Burning down the boats

Yesterday I linked to a long St. Paul Pioneer Press article by Tammy Oseid regarding the suburban Twin Cities charter school Tarek Ibn Ziyad Academy. The publicly funded school is geared to the large Twin Cities’ population of Somali Muslim immigrants and is led by school principal Asad Zaman.
I thought the Pioneer Press article was interesting in several respects, but focused my attention on the school’s namesake — the general who initiated the Muslim conquest of Spain in the eighth century. Oseid noted the general’s claim to fame, but relayed Zaman’s explanation that it was ibn Ziyad’s “later multicultural administration over Spain that primarily inspired the name.” The historic career of ibn Ziyad appears nevertheless to have been entirely military.
I hadn’t heard of ibn Ziyad previously. Looking around on the Internet, one can see not only that ibn Ziyad’s fame derives from martial conquest in the name of Islam, but also that his relevance in that respect continues in the context of the al Qaeda terrorist war. Spanish police looking for suspects in the 3/11 bombings found a videotape in the rubble of a bombing the next month. Members of the al Qaeda cell tracked by the police invoked ibn Ziyad, stating that “we will continue our jihad until martyrdom in the land of Tariq ibn Ziyad.” See Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker article “The terror web.”
Several readers wrote to point out that Gibraltar takes its name from the general — “Jebal-al-Tarik,” or Mount Tarik. Jamie Wellik wrote in support of the school:

Minnesotan Jamie Wellik here, former “The National Interest” managing editor during “The End of History?” era, and Hudson Institute scholar at the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I am now working on the forefront of the public school revolution, and work with numerous Charter Schools in Minnesota. I note this morning you posted on the school of one of my colleages, Asad Zaman and the Tarek Ibn Ziyad Academy.
I’ll vouch for his character and dedication: Having worked with Asad on the board of another charter school several years ago, and again as he has worked hard to implement his dream of a rigorous, back to basics education in a small community setting for those stuck with no choice in our inner cities.
Their school currently serves over 80% low income students, and serves them quite well as preliminary testing results, high attendance, and growing demand show. This, despite bus rides of 45-75 minutes each morning and afternoon.
Just last week, another fellow Carleton student, Morgan Brown of the Minnesota Department of Education’s Office of Choice and Innovation, met with students at Tarek Ibn Ziyad Academy for their monthly honors award program.

Wellik added the following in a second message:

I spoke to Asad Zaman, head of the school, (also a UofM Carlson School of Business graduate) and he had two interesting points:
1) Except for possibly the last 100 years, political leaders in world history have customarily been military leaders first. I accept this: (Alexander the Great, Napolean, many English Kings, et al.) Some leave behind their military shine as they political leadership crests, others are still remembered less favorably. (Ask any Australian about Winston’s Churchil and they’ll bring up his WWI record, Gallipoli and the Dardanelles).
2) “Burning the boats” is a metaphor intended to convince Muslim immigrants of the need to become full american citizens, and abandon the delusion of going back home and the self-imposed second-class status it puts upon them.
Although the Islam Online website [quoted in my original post] seems a bit strident, I couldn’t find any other references online to Tarek ibn Ziyad so I really can’t confirm how he is viewed.
But I did find this reference to the military conquest of Spain by the
Moors (invited in, apparently, by enemies of the Visigoth King that
gives a less sinister view of these events: http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/spain/arabconquest.html
I think of Shakespeare’s Henry V when I recall how romanticized leader’s wartime speeches can be: Burning the Boats is a powerful statement.

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