Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Cordoba House became “Ground Zero Mosque”?

How Cordoba House became “Ground Zero Mosque”?
By Mubasshir Mushtaq


G.K. Chesterton, English author and mystery novelist once wrote, “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive!" Seven decades later, Chesterton’s words still stand true. Journalism is synonymous with truth but these days media neither tells full truth nor complete lie. Media employs a pendulum that prefers to swing in the space between the full truth and the complete lie. It is in this context, we must zero on the so-called ongoing “Ground Zero Mosque” debate.

Media barons and editors transact with their readers in the currency of words. Words can be loose as well as loaded. Loose words can convert an issue into a non-issue. Loaded words act like a burning matchstick on dry grass. Therefore, the word “Iraqi insurgent” or “enemy combatant” is example of the loose words which have been heavily used by American media in Iraq war. On the contrary, “Jihadist” or “Muslim fanatic” is the example of loaded words which have been employed by a section of American press. The word “Cordoba House” will fall in the category of loose word while “Ground Zero Mosque” consists of loaded words.

So at what point proposed “Cordoba House” became “Ground Zero Mosque”?

Cordoba House is two long blocks away in north from the World Trade Center site. The five-storey building housed Burlington Coat Factory till September 11, 2001. The factory building was lying vacant since then until a group of Muslims led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf bought it in July 2009. The factory building is being used for Friday prayer. New York Times was the first newspaper that ran a front-page feature on December 9, 2009 on the proposed Islamic centre but it never used the term “Ground Zero Mosque.” The front-page report did not attract any attention. On December 21, 2009, Daisy Khan, wife of Imam Abdul Rauf was interviewed by conservative media personality Laura Ingraham on Fox TV. The interview was cordial and Ingraham seemed to support the Cordoba Project. It was on this programme that the misnomer “Ground Zero Mosque” was used onscreen for the very first time. The term may have been used unconsciously on the programme but there was no controversy immediately after that. In fact, according to a search on Nexis newspaper archive, there was not a single news article on the mosque for next five and half months!

On May 6, 2010, New York City community board committee unanimously voted in favour of the Cordoba House. On the same day, anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller wrote against the Cordoba House terming it as “monster mosque”. It is precisely at this point that a proposed 13-storey proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, swimming pool and 9/11 memorial, was just reduced to a “mosque”! Geller went further to plant a lie that the “mosque” was being built on the site of World Trade Center! “What better way to mark your territory than to plant a giant mosque on the still-barren land of the World Trade Center?” she wrote on her Atlas Shrugs blog. “This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem.”

On the same day, Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post ran a story which deliberately identified Cordoba House as “WTC Mosque.” News agency Associated Press (AP) ran a story on May 7 quoting relatives of 9/11 victims with differing opinions on the “mosque”. On the same day, Geller’s group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), launched a campaign “Stop the 911 Mosque!” She posted the names and contact information for New York mayor and members of the community board, encouraging people to write. Uninformed, gullible Americans and anti-Muslims from all across the world wrote to the board without verifying the details that there is no mosque being built on the site of the terrorists attack!

On May 8, 2010, Geller and Robert Spencer, a known-Muslim-hater and associate director of SIOA, announced first protest against the “911 Mosque” to be held on May 29. One May 10, New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser becomes the first journalist-victim of Geller campaign. She openly wrote against the “mosque” saying that “there are better places to put a mosque.” On May 13, she devoted an entire article to Cordoba House provocatively titled “Mosque Madness at Ground Zero”. The article played an important role in raising and shaping the debate in the sense that it was the first article to be published in a newspaper which portrayed the Cordoba project as inherently wrong and suspect. Peyser quoted Geller thus giving credence to an agony aunt! (Geller once suggested that Malcolm X was Obama’s real father!)

Thus within a month, Cordoba House, unnecessarily became controversial. It began with anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller. Andrea Peyser peddled it into conservative media. Mainstream media lapped it up further. A serious newspaper like The Wall Street Journal used the erroneous term “Ground Zero Mosque” in its headline several times. Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, termed the mosque as “desecration”. Politicians like Sarah Palin, Peter King, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty followed suit.

Today, the atmosphere has become so much charged and heated in America that according to CNN poll 7 in 10 Americans say that they are against the Cordoba Project. By joining the words “Mosque” and “Ground Zero”, peddlers of hate have succeeded in creating fear in American hearts. To many Americans, “mosque” is still a dangerous place. “Ground Zero” is another dangerous word. Two meanings from the American Heritage dictionary would suffice. Ground Zero means; a) Area where an atomic bomb is detonated, b) A center of explosive change.

It is also true that many Americans including Mayor Bloomberg of New York have spoken in favour of Cordoba House. But men like Bloomberg seem to be in minority. There is another mosque in Manhattan, near WTC and Pentagon, another terrorist attack site, has a prayer room. Why have not Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer spoken against these two “mosques” in the ongoing debate?

Americans aren’t dumb but an average American is more ignorant than an Indian. According to a recent poll one in five Americans believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though he isn’t! A quarter of those who believe he is a Muslim also claimed he talks about his faith too much! Where are they getting their information? Sixty per cent said they learned it from the media!

America needs to have a mass public awareness campaign against the likes of Gellers and Spencers and misleading media. Barack Hussein Obama must make a distinction between “full truth” and “complete lie.”

Till then Pamela Geller will laugh that her wildest dream has crossed the Atlantic.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Kashmir Diary - I

Kashmir Diary-I
By Mubasshir Mushtaq


From the sky Kashmir looks serene. Snow-clad peaks of Pir Panjal range emerge in sight. For a moment, it looks like that some brainy child has erected ice-toys by splattering snow in his snow-covered apple orchard! Kashmir can be an illusion for perceptive thinkers. One enters into hibernation looking at the marvellous mountain-range. The serenity of Kashmir gets a break as the plane touches the tarmac of Srinagar International Airport with a bang. After a violent sprint, pilot applies brakes and the plane comes to a screeching halt. Its 11.15am and the outside temperature is 30 degree; a bright and sunny day. Gun-trotting CRPF men guard the entrance of the terminal but there is no security check. Kashmir seems to be an integral part of India for an incoming tourist…

The car slowly drove out of Srinagar airport. We drove past soldiers, bunkers, loops of barbed wire, armoured vehicles, school children both boys and girls stand waiting for school bus, and pedestrians walking slowly as if time has come to a standstill. There is an air of suspicion on the street. Suspicion and Kashmir go hand in hand. Kashmir is India’s most suspicious state. Big Urdu hoardings and signboards instantly create an impression that one is in Pakistan! Shahrukh Khan smiles from a Dish TV ad beautifully done in Urdu. Tata sheets and Airtel ads are every where in Urdu. Kashmir is India’s only state where Urdu has become the language of commerce.

The new city – which lies very close to the airport – is an architectural wonder. On both sides of a long artery, red brick houses covered with tin-sheets sit squarely. This part of the city is known as ‘new city’ but it resembles like British countryside! The other two portions of the city are called ‘Old city’ and ‘Civil Lines’.

After half an hour’s drive, we reached our destination Dal Lake where accommodation is on a houseboat. Houseboats are peculiar to Srinagar and offer the most memorable accommodation. At least there are 1000 houseboats moored on the banks of river Jehlum, Dal and Nagin lakes. Boulevard road runs next to the Dal Lake. The road in many ways is Kashmir’s marine drive or far better than that. It starts at Tourist Chowk and makes a circular angle leading to Hazratbal mosque.

A Shikara ride over Dal Lake is the most spectacular adventure in Srinagar. Away from the clutter and clang of city life, we step onto a beautifully decorated Shikara for a smooth 2-hour ride over the still waters of the Dal. A thick layer of silence engulfs the Dal. The depth of silence can acquire frightening proportions for the weak-hearted. Dal is the place where one is with oneself. One can converse with nature without uttering a word! Silence is the only form of communication over a tranquil Dal lake. Floating flowers and plants on Dal are called floating garden. The shimmer of floating garden against the Lake water creates an aura of gratification and eternal bliss. The lake is 6 km long and 3km wide. In winter, Dal is frozen and children play cricket on it! In the middle of the lake there is an island. There are four princely chinar trees on the island; it’s popularly known as char chinar. There is a beautiful garden under the shadow of four chinar trees.

Srinagar is also famous for Mughal gardens which were beautifully built and maintained by Mughal emperors. Nishat Bagh is the biggest Mughal garden and lies at the east side of Boulevard road overlooking Dal lake. One can see the citadel of Emperor Akbar known as Hari Parvat on the west side of the Dal Lake. It is in ruins now and under the control of Army. Nishat is constructed stepwise and divided in 10 parts. The water channel flows from centre of the garden. There are so many fountains, fruits of garden and flowers. Chinar, cypris and lush green grass creates a soothing atmosphere.

Shalimar Bagh lies on north side of Nishat. It was constructed in 1616 by Emperor Jahangir for his wife Noor Jahan. The garden served as a meeting point for the two. The garden has four terraces, rising one above the other. A canal runs through in the middle of the garden. There is a small hut-like palace in the middle of the garden where Emperor Jahangir used to sit with Noor Jahan.

Chashme-Shahi is a small tastefully-laid garden with terraces. A cold water spring runs through in the centre. The water of spring is said to cure many diseases. One will forget the taste of mineral water after drinking the spring water. A road upside leads to Pari Mahal. Pari Mahal is situated on a hillock overlooking the beautiful Dal lake. The terraced arched garden was built by Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in mid-seventeenth century. In the upper most terrace, there are ruins of two structures resembling a baradari and a reservoir. In the middle of second terrace is a large tank. The fa├žade of the retaining wall is ornamented with a series of twenty one arches built in descending order. The third terrace has the main entrance. On either side of it are a series of specious rooms. The fourth terrace has the remains of the tank. The fifth terrace has an archade retaining wall with pigeon holes. The sixth terrace has a rectangular tank in the middle and octagonal bastions at its ends. Fragments of earthen water pipes are still to be seen in the structure.

Pari Mahal and Chasme-Shahi are located in highly sensitive and VIP area. It was by sheer chance that I spotted Omar Abdullah descending from a helicopter with his family. As I zoomed the lens of my camera on the helicopter from the top terrace of Pari Mahal, a gun-trotting CRPF jawan stood next to me making sure that young Abdullah family is safe. Omar came out of the helicopter with his Sikh wife Payal and son Zahir. It seemed that Omar was returning from a holiday as Kashmir was in turmoil.

A memorable meeting with legendary journalist M.J. Akbar in Lalit Grand Palace, former Palace of Raja Gulab Singh, will always be etched in memory. M.J. Akbar argued that two irreligious men Nehru and Jinnah were responsible for partition of India while two deeply religious leaders Gandhi and Maulana Azad never accepted partition and therefore were sidelined after 1947. In the lawn of the Palace, there is a 110-year old historical chinar tree under which Gandhi sat with Maharaja Gulab Singh in June 1947, just two months before the partition.

Shankaracharya temple was built in 220 BC on a hillock overlooking Dal Lake. It offers the panoramic view of Dal Lake and Srinagar. The legend has it that the temple was built on Takhte-Sulemani. Archeological Survey of India confirms it! My driver insists that there existed a mosque before the temple.

On the left bank of Dal Lake, the imposing dome of Hazratbal Mosque makes its presence felt. It may not be as grand as the Dome of Rock in Jerusalem but it can certainly be viewed from a distance. The mosque is considered holiest shrine as it preserves Moi-e-Muqqadas (the sacred hair) of Prophet Muhammad. The history of holy relic requires another article but suffice it to note that it was Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who helped to restore it. There is a huge hand-written Qur’an from Aurangzeb era inside the mosque.

In a narrow lane outside the Hazratbal Shrine, Gulzar Ahmed sells sweets. A poster of Pakistani cricket team adorns the filthy wall behind him. Kashmiri patriotism has changed in the last six decades. The deep sense of alienation and betrayal has resulted in pictorial protest and patriotism. Not far from Gulzar Ahmed’s sweet shop, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, the lion of Kashmir, rests on the banks of a tranquil Dal. A lone gun man guards the empty and deserted marble mausoleum of Kashmir’s greatest contemporary leader. Sheikh Abdullah was betrayed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru but he did not lose hope. Gulzar Ahmed needs to visit the grave of Sheikh Abdullah to understand his message.