Wednesday, 30 October 2013

(77): Killing the lice on your eyes

Kashe kwarkwatar ido (literally translated as killing the lice on your eyes) is a common Hausa adage which can perhaps be explained in English as satisfying your curiosity. Travelling around the world is one of the greatest opportunities to kill the lice on your eyes. People tend to like hearing stories about other places. This time around my destination is Washington DC, the United States which I visited in the middle of October 2013. It is my third visit in five years. To many people, among the famous places to visit in order to kill the lice on your eyes would include the White House, the US Congress etc, especially when the country was engaged in the debate over the government shutdown. For me the most interesting places to visit could actually be outside the famous symbols of power which we see on our television screens almost on daily visit. In fact the best places for me are the bookshops; where you will find series of publications, even on topics you never think someone will write about.
a portion of the Berlin Wall displayed in the museum

Before departing for Washington, someone posted a book review on the Nigeria Muslim Forum discussion list. An eye catching review on a book recently released, entitled “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders” written by Professor Denise A Spencer. According to Professor Spencer, “by the time Congressman Ellison was elected and swore his private oath of office on Jefferson’s Qur’an in 2007, I thought as a historian that I might have something to contribute”.

You might recall that in 2007, when Mr Ellison was elected as the first Muslim into the US Congress, there was serious controversy when he suggested that he wants to take his oath with a copy of the Qur’an owned by former US President Thomas Jefferson, the author of the declaration of US Independence, first Secretary of State and third President of the United States. As someone who is interested in the study of multiculturalism and representation of identity, this is definitely an important literature. It is a book that explains the role of Islam and Muslims in the evolution of the United States. But my curiosity does not end in getting a copy of Jefferson’s Qur’an, I already have list which I was eager to purchase, and gladly I did.

As I settled in my hotel, and checked my email, I saw a message from my good friend Malam Habeeb Idris Pindiga, the Editor of Daily Trust Newspaper. Habeeb was a year ahead of me at Bayero University, Kano. He was responding to an email I sent to him earlier. You know as a Public Relations Practitioner, you have to be friendly to journalists, it is even much better if the journalist is already your friend (I am sorry Habeeb, I know your paper has strict rules over brown envelop, so let me exonerate you quickly, this is not a bribe).

After some correspondence we agreed to meet outside the World Bank headquarters. I told Habeeb about the series of books I purchased, and the ones still on the line. I knew definitely that I will learn something from him, because three years ago, it was him and Bashir Saad Abdullahi who recommended another book to me, Flat Earth News written by the investigative journalist Nick Davies. It is a book I will suggest everyone who reads the news or watch television must read. If you do, I assure you, you will never be the same again. Because it will be clear to you how journalism has been penetrated by vested interests, and how stories are planted in the media to mislead the public.

Do you trust the press?
But Habeeb’s gift to me this time around, was not a book. “Have you been to the news museum?”, he asked “No, in fact I never heard about it. In my previous visits to the US I never had time to come to Washington”, I said. The following day we visited the News Museum owned by USA Today. It is an important information hub for anyone who wants to kill the lice on his eyes. There is a record on almost every important story that happens around the world. The museum has a section that features the front pages of other newspapers around the world. In fact, they even brought the remains of the Berlin Wall, part of the antenna at the top of the World Trade Centre, destroyed on 9/11/. A section is dedicated to the pictures of journalists who died on the front line. Other sections simply feature the front pages of key global stories, think of any?

Habeeb has mastered this museum; he took me to every section and explained the historical artifacts in the museum. There was an interesting quotation in the museum I found interesting, it says in times of disaster, everyone runs away, except journalists and emergency workers. But the one I keep thinking about was a poster with the following bold inscriptions: CAN THE PRESS BE TRUSTED? What is your opinion?



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