Although it is no concern of mine where they build the mosque in New York, I am glad I am neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. Now that the crackpot Florida pastor has exited the scene, the Quran-burning stunt no longer clouds our vision. Therefore, the question of whether a mosque should be built next to “ground zero” (two blocks or three blocks away is irrelevant) has no complicating side-issue attached to it. The position of Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama is commendable: the United States of America has no state religion, and citizens can worship whoever and whenever they wish. This stand is morally and constitutionally unimpeachable. One of the cardinal principles laid down by the founding fathers is thus being gloriously reaffirmed by a city renowned for its religious tolerance. What better way to show the world, especially the Muslim world, that America is not at war with Islam but only with Al Qaeda. It would be a brave person who would argue with such a sane exposition of put your money where your mouth is!
Yet. Yet. Yet. If Americans who insist the mosque must be built at the precise place planned also accept that 9/11 was an unprecedented atrocity which traumatised the American people, a trauma with which they are still coming to terms, then it is pertinent to ask why a mosque needs to be built adjacent to the spot where thousands perished at the hands of jehadi Muslims? Unless the purpose of this cock-eyed scheme is to provoke not only people like Terry Jones but also ordinary, decent Americans very much committed to the idea of freedom of worship. If the proposed mosque had been given a plot a couple of kilometres away from its present site, would one of America’s cherished values have been permanently besmirched?
The comparison with our own temple vs mosque controversy in Ayodhya is not entirely out of place. Sensible, sober and pseudo-secular Indians have been pleading that a magnificent Ram temple be constructed, but not necessarily at the precise place where the mosque stood. If that logic holds for Ayodhya, why not for New York?
The Schizoid Chariot
Cricket lovers can only shed tears at the state of the Pakistan team. Here is a side of such individual brilliance and flair, endowed with such skills and style that no matter where your loyalties lie, you stand up and applaud them. And yet collectively they are about as cohesive as Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. The visceral bickerings between players defy comprehension. I remember an incident in Mumbai, when close to midnight, Javed Miandad was seen running after Abdul Qadir in the corridors of the Taj Mahal hotel with a knife in his hand. I don’t want to get all heavy and Freudian, but the Pakistan cricket team is currently a metaphor for the Pakistani state. A country facing an existential crisis will produce a team which reflects that crisis. The fact that the Pakistan government and the ruling elite believe their players have been stitched up courtesy an elaborate Indian conspiracy is characteristic of a nation living in denial of the nature and magnitude of the calamity it is facing.
Meanwhile, a letter in The Daily Telegraph (London) reflects the British attitude to the scandal: “We should congratulate the Pakistani cricketers for making an ancient, boring rain-making ceremony mildly interesting to a silent majority who probably could not name anyone in the English team. The scandal removes pseudo-celebrities and the credit crunch from the headlines. But it will not last—we can bet on that.”
Nay, Nay, Cap’n
I am reading Tony Blair’s account of his days in power, A Journey. It is light, pleasant night-time reading which does not tax the brain or challenge the imagination. The book reveals in great detail the toxic rivalry between the prime minister and his deputy, Gordon Brown. It makes the disagreements between, say, Chidambaram and Digvijay Singh, look like a tea party. If the top two men in government—Blair and Brown—were forever plotting and scheming against each other, how did they find the time to do their jobs? At one point, Tony Blair is driven to ask the famous football manager Sir Alex Ferguson what he would do with a player who is “brilliant” but a big “problem” for the captain. Ferguson’s advice: Chuck him out.
The late US president Lyndon Johnson had the best solution to this kind of personnel problem. “It is better,” he said, “to have him inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing in.”
I was at a TV awards function hosted by Impact magazine recently. Two stand-up comics were presented to entertain the guests. They tried valiantly but the whole affair was a bit stale. When my turn came to speak, I couldn’t help recounting a Tommy Cooper joke. Two cannibals are eating a stand-up comic. One says to the other: “Does the food taste funny to you?”