Friday, September 10, 2010

Columnist as an Embarrassment: Can someone tell Abati to stick to “Comedies” or is it “Commentary” on Nigerian Politics only

A little while ago, I stopped pointing out the many fabricated facts and outright falsehoods, passed off as political commentary by the Nigerian pundits. Most of these write ups are often laden with conjectures and suppositions, all in a bid to fit their parochial subjects, which sadly often turned out to be the latest Nigerian governmental officials who have refused to play ball with them. That was a while ago; the subject of this write up however writes for a newspaper popularly called “the flagship of Nigerian journalism.” This newspaper and her many avid readers expect that its journalist and columnist set the standards for others to follow. In actual fact, the Nigerian Guardian newspaper did a lot during the military years to set those standards, thanks to the efforts of Olatunji Dare, Aman Ogan et. al. It was therefore an embarrassment to read a piece by that paper opinion columnist: Reuben Abati titled “Terry Jones don’t burn the Quaran.”

First of all let me state that the issue he commented on should concerned Nigeria and Nigerian. Every opportunity I have had here in America to address this issue, I have had to remind Americans that when Terry Jones burn the Quaran, the primary concern should not just be about an envisaged attack on Americans soldiers but the Christian churches that will be burnt, the many Muslims and Christians that will be killed, burned and maimed by fanatical religious fanatics in northern Nigeria and other places.
What drew my umbrage with respect to Abati’s piece has to do with his lack of understanding of the issue he chose to comment on and the many factual inaccuracies inherent therein. Abati writes:

There have been rather curious attempts to argue that this is all about free
speech and human rights. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg says for example that
the action may be wrongheaded but Jones and his supporters are protected by the
First Amendment. “He has a right to do it”, Bloomberg said. It is the same
freedom to do it that Imam Feisal Rauf, the leader of the group planning
the Cordoba Centre in New York is flaunting; in his own case, he wants to build
a mosque close to the site of the 9/11 incident at Park 51, and call it “Ground
Zero Mosque”.

To set the record straight, Mayor Bloomberg never said that Imam Feisal Rauf was “flaunting” the freedom to build the Cordoba center, Abati probably made that up. A little “goggle” by Abati would have revealed to him that Bloomberg actually supports building that “mosque”. Secondly, the coalition never intended to name it “Ground Zero Mosque”, it was not meant to be mosque in the first place. Again a little Google would have revealed that it was meant to be a cultural/community center operated by moderate Muslims where the many virtues of tolerance will be enhanced. Thirdly the cultural center is not any near the site of the 9/11 center than the many other businesses and pornographic center, some of which are closer to that hallowed ground. Finally, here in America, you don’t pick and choose when to abide with the first amendment. All you can do is appeal to the “better angel” of Terry Jones as President Obama did. It is commentaries like Abati that many gulags and dictators seized upon in Africa to sealed off news media offices or ban importation of newsprints. Abati should have known better.

Most importantly, comparing the Quaran burning to the fabled ground zero mosque, as Abati did in his piece smacks of ignorance and may I say “copy and paste” journalism which is very common with Nigerian columnist who lift news commentary from blogs and other foreign news media. Those who make this comparison in America are most often from religious rights political activist, who argued that the “two ideas are both constitutionally protected bad ideas.” The truth is they are completely unrelated and non-equivalent. Perhaps, the only similarities they share are that they are constitutionally protected! In fact, how can anyone even compare Muslims building a community center in their neighborhood on one hand, to a deliberate attempt to insult a religion that is dear to about 1.5 billion souls around the globe! There is absolutely no link whatsoever between the Park51 cultural and community center plan and the Quaran burning stunt by Terri Jones. I wonder what Abati is thinking when he wrote this piece. But there is more, he wrote:

Both Jones and Rauf are sick clerics; their proposals smack
of insensitivity, intolerance, and outright recklessness. This of course is
the dilemma of democracy and liberty. Democracy is said to be illiberal if it
places direct checks on the expression of rights, it is described as liberal
when it carries the banner of almost limitless rights. But no one should
have the right to endanger society or humankind.

Calling Imam Rauf a “sick cleric” is like calling Pope Benedict sick for planning to build a Catholic community center for tolerance and understanding near the site where Christians killed Muslims in a reprisal attack in Jos, recently. It is totally uncalled for and smack of insensitivity and ignorance on Abati’s part. And by the way, can someone tell Abati, that there is a distinct line between constitutionalism and democracy. Don’t throw around words you don’t understand. And every constitutional democracy has checks and balances. Your right to swing your arm stops at my nose, but that does not makes it “illiberal.” Words like liberal democracy is now well defined that you don’t expect journalist of Abati’s standard to compare it to limitless rights.

Here is a lesson Nigerians and particularly people like Reuben Abati can learn from Americans handling of the Terri Jones saga. Pastor Jones had a total of 30 members in his church, he expressed his intent to burn the Quaran to the press. The press did not censored him, the government did not send “Nigerian police force” to conduct an “extra judicial killing” on him, “Boko Haram style.” He received a phone call from the Secretary of Defense-equivalent of our defense minister in Nigeria- and appeals from Hillary Clinton-secretary of state, and President Obama not to carry out his stunt. The imam of a nearby mosque in Florida met with him and they jointly addressed a press conference! That is what you get when you operated under constitutional democracy. If you killed Terri Jones, like we did to the head of Boko Haram, “extra judicial style”, you simply make a martyr of him and help him get more followers, who will continue the mindless stunt. These and many others are the lessons Nigerians and Reuben Abati should learn from this incident and not a call excoriating democracy and liberalism. I hope Abati’s newspaper will give this piece the same coverage they gave to him every day, but I am not banking on that!
Francis Adewale