Recent Posts

Time Perception – BBC World

May 15th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan|

Mike Williams asks why some weeks just fly by but sometimes minutes can seem like hours? Why do we perceive time differently in different circumstances? Mike talks to Pakistani writer and broadcaster Raza Rumi,[…]

On Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

April 21st, 2016|Arts & Culture, History, Pakistan, South Asian Art, SouthAsia|

C.M. Naim’s, A Professor Emiretus had shared this some months ago:

“What an extraordinary man he was. Iftikhar Alam Sahib has been publishing books about him — about his little known aspects, the kind of things […]

The party line

April 15th, 2016|books, History, Pakistan, Poetry, Published in The Friday Times|

My exclusive interview for the Friday Times with Kamran Asdar Ali about his book and the history of the Pakistani left

kamran1 Kamran Asdar Ali

Your book employs an interdisciplinary approach with literary texts playing a major part. What were the key reasons for adopting such a hybrid approach?

As I am trained as an anthropologist, my impulse has been that of an ethnographer while involving myself in history writing (looking for cultural patterns, the silences, the private sphere, the everyday). In the text I try to pay close attention to people’s lives, their writings and practices, I show the entanglement of their experiences in multiple and cross-cutting processes and political motivations. To capture these layers of Pakistan’s history, the book is based on oral testimonies, ethnographic fieldwork, memoirs, and archival research. Yet to excavate the nuances of people’s everyday existence during a particular era I also relied on fiction and literary texts. This provided me, as it does to numerous scholars who are trying to understand the cultural specificity of an era, a window into the life and times of the period I was trying to capture in the book. Reports, journalistic accounts, sociological descriptions and historical sources do provide an understanding of the past (as part of the formal archives), yet many historians use diaries and personal letters to enter the private and intimate domain. In these terms fiction also helps us understand the mood, sentiment and the affective experience of a particular moment in history. The bringing together of various genres of writing helps me to strive toward a more complete understanding of my subject matter.

The acceptance of Pakistan by the Communist Party of India remains a contested issue. Did the Communists foresee that they would soon face intense repression by the new state? 

The Communist Party of India (CPI) since 1942 onwards did seek to work with the Muslim League and also propagate Congress-League alliance. In pursuing this argument, CPI cadres worked closely with the Muslim League, at times joining the party in the 1945-46 elections. However, the CPI changed its position on Pakistan in 1946 and emphasised that the unity of India was the progressive point of view and partition would be a reactionary step. Later still in August 1946, the CPI issued a resolution asserting that surely the Muslim League represented the bulk of the Muslim masses, yet declared that the demand reflected the feudal and Muslim elite interests that sought to compromise with imperialism for a share in administering a divided India. Indeed, CPI finally did accept the creation of Pakistan by arguing for the division of the party itself during the Party Congress in 1948. But a deep suspicion of Muslim League politics and the agony over British India’s division was the overwhelming sentiment that was shared by a majority of party workers of all religions and ethnicities. Pakistan’s creation was, according to the CPI, non-progressive and hence reactionary.

[…]

Media in the Cross Hairs: Militants continue to Target Journalists in Pakistan

April 7th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in CIMA, SouthAsia, terrorism|

pak

 

Despite the commitments of the Pakistan government to protect journalists, media freedoms remain endangered in the country. Pakistani journalists continue to struggle with the threats posed by violent extremists who consider media to be a legitimate target. In fact, extremists often target the media because it ensures that they will get publicity in the form of coverage. Thus, journalists remain quite vulnerable as the government has yet to find workable mechanisms to ensure their safety in the country.

On March 27, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban carried out a deadly attack on a busy park in Lahore that killed more than 72 and injured 300. In a message claiming responsibility on Twitter, the spokesman for the group was quick to warn, “Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media.” He also ominously added that the group was “waiting for the appropriate time,” presumably referring to an attack. The threat is not new. In 2014 the Pakistani Taliban issued a detailed fatwa that justified attacking the media and killing journalists.

The Ongoing Threat and the Emergence of an ISIS-branch in Pakistan

This new threat comes in the wake of earlier incidents that have made media workers anxious. On January 14, ISIS claimed that it launched an attack on a Pakistan TV station. Two assailants riding a motorbike threw an explosive device and fired gunshots at the ARY television network offices in Islamabad. The shooters ran away when the guards fired at them. In December 2015, another television channel, Din News, was also attacked in Lahore injuring a staffer and two police constables. A militant group claiming itself to be an affiliate of ISIS, the Khorasan Group (Daulat-i-Islamia Khorasan), claimed responsibility for the attack. The Khorasan Group had also carried out an attack a month earlier. In November 2015 a hand grenade was thrown at the bureau office of Dunya News television in Faisalabad, the third largest Pakistani city. Two employees of the channel were injured.

The extent of ISIS presence in Pakistan is unclear, and its appeal is not widespread. Yet, reports have suggested that the group is attempting to make inroads in Pakistan. Its presence in Afghanistan has already been confirmed as splintering groups of the Taliban have been professing allegiance to the ISIS leadership. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Pakistani consulate in eastern Afghanistan on January 13 that killed seven members of the Afghan security forces. […]

My interview with Ithaca Times, U.S.

April 4th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, terrorism|

Recently I was interviewed by Ithaca Times, USA. Here is the text:

The Ithaca Times sat down with Rumi to talk about his work—in past, present, and future—the state of Pakistan, and his impressions of the United States so far.
Ithaca Times:You took an unorthodox path into journalism. Tell us a little bit about your background and how that informs your work now.
Raza Rumi: I was a civil servant in Pakistan, and then got into international development. I was with the Asian Development Bank for nearly a decade, during which time I began to write for Pakistani papers. I was enjoying it so much, getting so much feedback, that I said, ‘Let’s give it a try and make it into a kind of career.’ In 2008 I took a leave from the Asian Development Bank and started editing the Friday Times, a liberal weekly newspaper in Lahore … My background gives me an immense edge in terms of commentaries and analysis. I write with that experience; I know which parts of government talk to each other, how transactions come into effect. […]

My interview with Interfaith Radio, DC

April 4th, 2016|Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Peace, Personal|

On Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

By | April 21st, 2016|Arts & Culture, History, Pakistan, South Asian Art, SouthAsia|

C.M. Naim's, A Professor Emiretus had shared this some months ago: "What an extraordinary man he was. Iftikhar Alam Sahib has been publishing books about him -- about his little known aspects, the kind of [...]

The party line

By | April 15th, 2016|books, History, Pakistan, Poetry, Published in The Friday Times|

My exclusive interview for the Friday Times with Kamran Asdar Ali about his book and the history of the Pakistani left Kamran Asdar Ali Your book employs an interdisciplinary approach with literary texts playing a major part. What were the key reasons for adopting such a hybrid approach? As I am trained as an anthropologist, my impulse has been that of an ethnographer while involving myself in history writing (looking for cultural patterns, the silences, the private sphere, the everyday). In the text I try to pay close attention to people’s lives, their writings and practices, I show the entanglement of their experiences in multiple and cross-cutting processes and political motivations. To capture these layers of Pakistan’s history, the book is based on oral testimonies, ethnographic fieldwork, memoirs, and archival research. Yet to excavate the nuances of people’s everyday existence during a particular era I also relied on fiction and literary texts. This provided me, as it does to numerous scholars who are trying to understand the cultural specificity of an era, a window into the life and times of the period I was trying to capture in the book. Reports, journalistic accounts, sociological descriptions and historical sources do provide an understanding of the past (as part of the formal archives), yet many historians use diaries and personal letters to enter the private and intimate domain. In these terms fiction also helps us understand the mood, sentiment and the affective experience of a particular moment in history. The bringing together of various genres of writing helps me to strive toward a more complete understanding of my subject matter. The acceptance of Pakistan by the Communist Party of India remains a contested issue. Did the Communists foresee that they would soon face intense repression by the new state?  The Communist Party of India (CPI) since 1942 onwards did seek to work with the Muslim League and also propagate Congress-League alliance. In pursuing this argument, CPI cadres worked closely with the Muslim League, at times joining the party in the 1945-46 elections. However, the CPI changed its position on Pakistan in 1946 and emphasised that the unity of India was the progressive point of view and partition would be a reactionary step. Later still in August 1946, the CPI issued a resolution asserting that surely the Muslim League represented the bulk of the Muslim masses, yet declared that the demand reflected the feudal and Muslim elite interests that sought to compromise with imperialism for a share in administering a divided India. Indeed, CPI finally did accept the creation of Pakistan by arguing for the division of the party itself during the Party Congress in 1948. But a deep suspicion of Muslim League politics and the agony over British India’s division was the overwhelming sentiment that was shared by a majority of party workers of all religions and ethnicities. Pakistan’s creation was, according to the CPI, non-progressive and hence reactionary. […]

Midnight’s furies

By | December 18th, 2015|History, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, SouthAsia|

The violent process of Partition remains a highly contested domain in the study of history. Raza Rumi examines various histories of Partition in the light of arguments from three recent books on the blood-stained events of 1947 Death and displacement from 1947 remain seared into the historical memories of both Pakistanis and Indians The debate on India’s Partition of 1947 continues even 68 years after the cataclysmic event took place. The manifestations of this historical rupture are all too evident in our ‘present’ as well. For the past few months, Indian authors and intellectuals have been protesting the growing incidents of communal violence and the mainstream Indian discourse on Muslims and Islam was never so pungent. Ironically, the right wing commentators and Hindu nationalist politicians have been advising the dissenters to move to Pakistan. This would have been amusing, if it were not for the looming threat of violence – physical, verbal or even imagine. For decades, Pakistani dissenters have also been branded as Indian agents. With the rise of social media and the deep, dark havens of bigotry that the Internet provides, campaigns are launched to brand anyone deviating from the official line of ‘Pakistan’, defined by religious nationalism, as a traitor. Human rights defenders such as Asma Jahangir and even centre-right politician such as Nawaz Sharif have been painted in such a light. At the heart of these sterile and offensive campaigns lie issues linked to identity – religious, national and political. In short, the discussions that were taking place in British India of the 1940s have permeated into our contemporary discourses. […]

Islam and the “Cold War baroque”

By | August 14th, 2015|Extremism, History, Published in The Friday Times|

When “empire” strikes back, but the Force remains strong – in the arts and academia of contemporary Muslim countries. I spared with Sadia Abbas As the world moves into a maddening phase of Islam versus the West, Pakistani academic Sadia Abbas presents a layered narrative in her book, At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament (Fordham University Press, New York), on the contours of a new, imagined view of “Islam”. In great detail and with crafted nuance, she analyses the complexities of the postcolonial condition of Muslim societies and Muslims, and the myriad modes and facets of anticolonial ambitions. Abbas’s study is unique because it delves into the intricate relationships between Islam, empire and culture, and weaves the story of the current crises that inform the lives of Muslims and their societies, through a literary lens. This study, in effect, presents an alternative discourse to the debates that surround depictions of both “Islamic terror” and “Islamophobia”. At Freedom’s Limit suggests that the complex histories of identity and struggle at the global level are vital to understanding the “new Islam” that has emerged since the early 1990s. […]

Save Palmyra From ISIS’s Rampage

By | June 26th, 2015|Arts & Culture, History, Published in Huffingtonpost, Published in The Huffington Post, Religion|

  Photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils, Myron Bement Smith Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have placed on view a relic from ancient Palmyra in Syria. In addition, the galleries are displaying images of 18th century engravings and 19th century photographs from its archives. In the wake of Daesh or the Islamic State’s offensive in Syria, this exhibition has attained a symbolic significance. Being held in the capital of the world’s only superpower with a questionable Syria policy, the display reminds us of what is at stake. It was exhilarating to be connected with this rich past of humanity and at the same time extremely devastating to remember that we live in a world where our ancient treasures can be wiped out while we look on helplessly. Haliphat – a limestone funerary relief bust on display at Sackler- stares at you with an intense expression. Her two fingers on the chin represent modesty and virtue. For a moment it seems like a reflection on what is happening in Palmyra today. Halpihat has been dated back to 231 C.E. The almost-alive figure displays Roman and Aramaic artistic styles, reminding us of how Palmyra was the bridge between the East and West. The Islamic State reportedly has planted mines and bombs in Palmyra. It is unclear if ISIS intends to destroy Palmyra or is using the threat as a strategy to deter attacks by Iraqi forces. Nevertheless, our collective heritage under grave threat. […]

The verse of freedom

By | February 7th, 2015|Arts & Culture, History, Pakistan, Poetry, Published in The Friday Times, South Asian Art, Uncategorized|

In a powerful exploration of resistance poetry in indigenous languages, I discovered marginalized poets challenging mainstream Pakistani identity in moving verse.  Faiz Ahmad Faiz Much has been said about the literary and artistic revolution of Pakistan. Undoubtedly Pakistani writers, artists and musicians are now recognised globally for their work which engages with the world and brings forth perspectives which alter the unidimensional image of the country. At home, the new wave of literary and creative output is celebrated each year at the Karachi and Lahore literature festivals which have emerged as major venues for conversation and showcasing of what is being produced in the mainstream. Away from the spotlight of international media and TV channels, Pakistan’s regional poets and writers are waging a far more perilous battle by engaging with their subaltern, marginalised audiences in the local idiom, thereby putting themselves at risk. The days of Faiz and Jalib are not over as we often moan. Instead they have deepened and regionalised. Our region has had a rich, ongoing folk tradition and it continues in myriad forms and expressions now. In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan poets and artists continue to challenge power and injustice. More so in Pakistan where instability, extremism and uncertainty have impacted people in a profound manner for the past few decades. […]

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The party line

By | April 15th, 2016|Categories: books, History, Pakistan, Poetry, Published in The Friday Times|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

My exclusive interview for the Friday Times with Kamran Asdar Ali about his book and the history of the Pakistani left

kamran1

Kamran Asdar Ali

Your book employs an interdisciplinary approach with literary texts playing a major part. What were the key reasons for adopting such a hybrid approach?

As I am trained as an anthropologist, my impulse has been that of an ethnographer while involving myself in history writing (looking for cultural patterns, the silences, the private sphere, the everyday). In the text I try to pay close attention to people’s lives, their writings and practices, I show the entanglement of their experiences in multiple and cross-cutting processes and political motivations. To capture these layers of Pakistan’s history, the book is based on oral testimonies, ethnographic fieldwork, memoirs, and archival research. Yet to excavate the nuances of people’s everyday existence during a particular era I also relied on fiction and literary texts. This provided me, as it does to numerous scholars who are trying to understand the cultural specificity of an era, a window into the life and times of the period I was trying to capture in the book. Reports, journalistic accounts, sociological descriptions and historical sources do provide an understanding of the past (as part of the formal archives), yet many historians use diaries and personal letters to enter the private and intimate domain. In these terms fiction also helps us understand the mood, sentiment and the affective experience of a particular moment in history. The bringing together of various genres of writing helps me to strive toward a more complete understanding of my subject matter.

The acceptance of Pakistan by the Communist Party of India remains a contested issue. Did the Communists foresee that they would soon face intense repression by the new state? 

The Communist Party of India (CPI) since 1942 onwards did seek to work with the Muslim League and also propagate Congress-League alliance. In pursuing this argument, CPI cadres worked closely with the Muslim League, at times joining the party in the 1945-46 elections. However, the CPI changed its position on Pakistan in 1946 and emphasised that the unity of India was the progressive point of view and partition would be a reactionary step. Later still in August 1946, the CPI issued a resolution asserting that surely the Muslim League represented the bulk of the Muslim masses, yet declared that the demand reflected the feudal and Muslim elite interests that sought to compromise with imperialism for a share in administering a divided India. Indeed, CPI finally did accept the creation of Pakistan by arguing for the division of the party itself during the Party Congress in 1948. But a deep suspicion of Muslim League politics and the agony over British India’s division was the overwhelming sentiment that was shared by a majority of party workers of all religions and ethnicities. Pakistan’s creation was, according to the CPI, non-progressive and hence reactionary.

(more…)

A twist in the tale

By | March 10th, 2016|Categories: books, Delhi By Heart, governance, Journalism, Pakistan, Published by Earthen Lamp Journal|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

book cover

My Interview conducted by Abdullah Khan for Earthen Lamp Journal:

ELJ: Tell us something about your journey from being a civil servant to a journalist and then to a writer of non-fiction books.

RR: It has been a mad, chaotic yet edifying journey. I have been a civil servant in Pakistan and then with the Asian Development Bank. Learnt a lot for both these careers but I realized that if I had to write, I needed to be free of shackles. However, that dream still eludes as one cannot make a living as a full-time writer. So I have been doing other jobs while attempting to write. I haven’t given up on the idea of becoming a full time writer. [Laughs]

ELJ: What was the inspiration behind your first book, Delhi by Heart?

RR: Delhi by Heart was a result of my discovery of medieval Delhi that even in the twenty-first century captures your attention due to the layers of visual symbols everywhere. I had read the history of India-Pakistan but visualizing it in Delhi was a different experience. As I learnt more about the forgotten chapter of our shared history, I thought there was a book and newspaper articles of essays will not do it justice. The book was also a statement that constructed nationalisms of India and Pakistan were a departure from nine centuries of myriad, contradcitory histories.

ELJ: Pakistan has produced many gifted fiction writers during last two decades. But, on the non-fiction side, there aren’t many popular names. Do you think Pakistani writers prefer the fiction route to tell their stories?

RR: I think there are many who are writing non-fiction as well. But the real acclaim has come through ficiton in an era when global curiosity on Pakistan grew. The novels of Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Nadeeem Aslam provide a window to the world beyond the horrific headlines that are attached to Pakistan and its residents.

ELJ: Your first book Delhi by Heart was a travel memoir, right? What is your latest book, The Fractious Path, all about?

RR: The Fractious Path is actually a collection of commentaries written for a Pakistani newspaper during 2008-13. This was the period when democracy returned to Pakistan after a decade of dictatorship and has continued. The commentaries provide a view on the democratic transition, the issues that Pakistan faced (and continues to face) and how the society is coping with them. Unlike the gloom and doom views, I think my articles capture the struggles of Pakistani civilian actors to reclaim space from civil-military bureaucracy and a shift in our history where the democratic government peacefully handed over power to another civilian government.

ELJ: How do you look at the future of democracy in Pakistan?

RR: The future of democracy in Pakistan is not bleak as pundits used to predict. In fact, there is an inner robustness within the political processes that has enabled the civilian actors. This does not mean that the military has completely retreated into the barracks but the fact that it no longer is in a position (or even interested) to launch a coup is a departure.

At the same time, the politial parties need to instil greater public confidence. Most are dynastic, leader-centric and largely undemocratic structures. But there is immense pressure from the urban electorate especially the young men and women for ‘change’. So the signs are not too bad.

ELJ: From Tahrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan, to the fringe elements in India and Bodu Bela Sena in Sri Lanka, almost all South Asian countries are infested with right wing extremism. How do you see these negative trends?

RR: Pakistan’s case is slightly different from the others. For more than three decades, the Afghanistan connection and wars have led to the growth of elements like TTP. For years, the country has supported militias to attain foreign policy goals. There is some reversal now as the military has been engaged in counterterrorism operations. But in general there is an increase in religious violence in the region. In India, we have seen caste and religion based killings, in Bangladesh secularists are being killed and the government is also clamping down on democratic freedoms. Sri Lanka is reeling under the after effects of a long civil war and the human rights abuses that took place in the wake of it. The reality is that minorities across the region are under threat and this has something to do with the brand of nationalism that most states have espoused. Only a SouthAsian vision can undo this.

ELJ: How important is democracy in Pakistan for continuous peace in South Asia?

RR: Democratic or let’s say representative rule is vital for peace in the region. In Pakistan, the civilian leaders are committed to regional peace as they want the country to progress in economic terms. Similarly, democracy allows for check and balances against executive excesses and inhibits states to indulge in irresponsible tactis.

ELJ: How do you look at the Indian prime minister’s visit to Pakistan? Will the Nawaz-Modi duo solve all pending issues between India and Pakistan?

RR: I think Modi’s Pakistan initiative was fantastic. He surprised and silenced his critics in both countries. But the situation is so complex due to non state actors like Jaish e Mohammad that we need bold political initiatives on both sides. Pakistan must nab and undo the elements that are keen to sabotage peace. I don’t think that the situation would improve soon but all we can do now is to keep the borders peaceful, solve the smaller disputes and encourage people to people contact. The iron curtain built after 1965 war needs to go away.

ELJ: What is going to be your next book?

RR: I am working on a memoir that deals with my recent years of media and public engagement in Pakistan, my decision to leave my country and adjusting to a different soceity even if for a short period of time. More than a book it is a catharsis that I need to undergo. Let’s see if publishers will find it interesting.

ELJ: Do you have any plan to do a fiction book?

RR: Indeed. Now that I am in a small town where many fiction writers live, I am finding the right kind of space and environment to imagine the stories that have been long brewing but could not be penned due to my hectic life in Pakistan. I have realised that phases of solitude and disengagement are necessary for writing. Fiction requires an intense engagement with yourself and I am slowly getting there.

Wish me luck. [Laughs]

Raza Rumi is a Pakistani author, policy analyst, and a journalist. He has been affiliated with The Friday Times, Pakistan’s foremost liberal weekly paper as a writer and an editor for a decade. Raza is also a commentator for several Pakistani, regional and international foreign publications. In Pakistan, he worked in the broadcast media as an analyst and hosted talk shows at Capital TV and Express News. In 2014, he moved to the United States after an assassination attempt, ostensibly carried out by Islamic extremists. Currently he is a scholar in residence at Ithaca College, New York USA; and visiting Faculty at Gallatin School, NYU. Raza is also a fellow at National Endowment for Democracy (USA), the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs (USA) and Jinnah Institute (Pakistan). In the past he has worked at the Asian Development Bank as a Governance Specialist and later advised several international development agencies such as UK AID, UNDP, UNICEF World Bank, among others. In his early career he was a member of Pakistan Administrative Service and an official at the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Kosovo.

He is the author of Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller and The Fractious Path.

In memoriam: Writers like Intizar Husain never die, they live on in their words and ideas

By | February 4th, 2016|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, Culture, Pakistan, published in DAWN, South Asian Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

In celebrating his pluralistic literary roots, Intizar Husain was a truly contemporary writer

intizar1

Intizar Husain, the last of great Urdu writers, passed away yesterday at the age of 92.

He’d been hospitalized for some time in Lahore. His ardent followers had been worried that the worst was likely to happen. But the truth is that writers of Husain’s stature never die. They live in their words and the corpus of ideas that they bequeath to future generations.

Husain was definitely one such figure. He leaves behind some of the finest specimens of fiction, journalism, travel writing and critical essays. The sheer volume of Husain’s literary output is mind boggling as it indicates a life that was lived in a deep love of letters; engaged in an eternal search for meaning.

Intizar Sahib spent his early years at his birthplace Dibai in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. In one of his interviews, he said that the partition of India in 1947 made him a fiction writer. Nothing could be truer as the shadow of his migration to a new country became perennial. For much of his life, this event and the sense of displacement informed his creative musings.

 intizar2
Intizar Husain was a sought after presence at literary festivals, where his vast body of work was discussed

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Dear Infidel: The Dilemma of British Muslims

By | October 28th, 2015|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, Pakistan, Published in Huffingtonpost, Religion|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I was a student in the United Kingdom when The Satanic Verses – the controversial novel by Salman Rushdie – created pandemonium across the globe. Images of the book being burnt were flashed across the television screens. My British Muslim friends were divided – some passionate about the issue of blasphemy, others unconcerned or detached from the divide. However, this moment marked a moment of imagination of a “new Islam.” Author Sadia Abbas has delineated this construction of the “violent” versus the “civilised” (Western world) in a new book entitled: At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament (Fordham University Press). With the “defeat” of Communism and move to “liberate” Kuwait in 1991, a new kind of sensibility was brewing. The September 11 attacks a decade later cemented this construction and today the Muslim, especially in the West is a loaded term open to multiple interpretations; and a new imagination of Islam rules the public mind.

It is in this context that a recent novel Dear Infidel by Tamim Sadikali is an important work of fiction emanating from the United Kingdom where new Islam is also under heavy scrutiny. Sadikali, an authentic voice from the “hood” has both the panache and punch to weave a story around issues of “British Muslim” identity and how it is informed by race, ethnicity, dilemmas of assimilation. Dear Infidel is a story of disparate lives of young Brits negotiating multiple identities in a post-9/11 world. (more…)

Chronicles of our recent past

By | July 10th, 2015|Categories: books, Islamophobia, Published in The Friday Times|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

FS Aijazuddin’s new book is an erudite and introspective account of a turbulent decade

chronchiles

The past decade in Pakistan has been cataclysmic. Political upheavals and assassinations, the menace of terrorism that cost us more than 80,000 lives and over $100 billion; and a time warped foreign policy kept pushing the country into a vortex. All of this reproduced the curse of endemic political instability that has been a hallmark of Pakistan’s trajectory. Much has been written on this decade especially by foreign commentators given our global relevance as an American ally in the War on Terror. Within Pakistan, a handful of commentators and analysts have articulated more grounded, organic narratives; and FS Aijazuddin is one of the chosen few. His new book The Morning After is a collection of articles, essays and speeches he delivered in various capacities during the years 2006 and 2014. As the author tells us, the book is a fourth in the series of such compilations. The last one – When Bush Comes to Shove and other writings – was published in 2006.

Such compilations can be tricky for a reader as often the contents respond to time-bound events and explore topics that run the risk of losing relevance overtime. Given the structural constraints of Pakistani state and society, the issues covered in The Morning After appear relevant even in 2015. Take the case of a column entitled ‘Making Cartoons of Ourselves’ on the global outrage against Danish Cartoons. It is hauntingly familiar and newsy. In 2012, there were countrywide protests against a film made on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and last year 14 staffers of a French magazine – Charlie Hebdo – were killed by fanatics in Paris. Aijazuddin’s conclusion is spot-on: “We are not the caricatures stencilled by the western press, nor the cartoons extremists make of themselves and of us by their aberrant behaviour.” (more…)

Manto’s women

By | February 13th, 2015|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Published in The Friday Times, South Asian Literature, SouthAsia, Urdu Literature, women|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Manto stands more or less alone in the position he takes on women, contends Raza Rumi, in an exploration of Manto’s relationship with his female protagonists

 

Manto2Saadat Hasan Manto

Perhaps the most well-known and also controversial Urdu writer of the twentieth century happens to be Saadat Hasan Manto. He left us with a stupendous literary output, which continues to remain relevant decades after his death. Manto, not unlike other ‘greats’ died young and lived through the greatest upheaval in the Indian subcontinent i.e. the Partition. As a sensitive writer, he was influenced and traumatized by political turmoil during 1947 and beyond. His stories reflect his repeated attempts to come to terms with this cataclysmic event especially for millions in North India. For Manto, partition remained a mystery but he did not keep himself in a state of denial about it. He always used the word ‘batwara’, never partition.i Manto felt that it was the ripping apart of one whole and would lead to greater divisions among the people of the subcontinent. This coming to terms with the ‘batwara’, is experienced in his works by unusual characters driven by plain ambitions, mixed emotions and above all sheer humanity.

Like Nazeer AkabarAbadi, Manto’s characters are universal and often it is difficult to condemn or dislike them since their humanity remains overarching. Manto raised the slogan of humanism at a time when the subcontinent presented the picture of a boiling cauldron of religious riots and protests, of acts of misogyny committed in the name of communal honour and ‘nationalism’. For example, in the story Sahai, Manto writes, “Don’t say that one lakh Hindus and one lakh Muslims have died. Say that two lakh human beings have perished.” Manto uses his characters as metaphors to highlight the prevalent abuse of humanity in those times.

(more…)

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Media in the Cross Hairs: Militants continue to Target Journalists in Pakistan

By | April 7th, 2016|Categories: Extremism, Pakistan, Published in CIMA, SouthAsia, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

  Despite the commitments of the Pakistan government to protect journalists, media freedoms remain endangered in the country. Pakistani journalists continue to struggle with the threats posed by violent extremists who consider media to be a legitimate target. In fact, extremists often target the media because it ensures that they will get publicity in the form of coverage. Thus, journalists remain quite vulnerable as the government has yet to find workable mechanisms to ensure their safety in the country. On March 27, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban carried out a deadly attack on a busy park in Lahore that killed more than 72 and injured 300. In a message claiming responsibility on Twitter, the spokesman for the group was quick to warn, “Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media.” He also ominously added that the group was “waiting for the appropriate time,” presumably referring to an attack. The threat is not new. In 2014 the Pakistani Taliban issued a detailed fatwa that justified attacking the media and killing journalists. The Ongoing Threat and the Emergence of an ISIS-branch in Pakistan This new threat comes in the wake of earlier incidents that have made media workers anxious. On January 14, ISIS claimed that it launched an attack on a Pakistan TV station. Two assailants riding a motorbike threw an explosive device and fired gunshots at the ARY television network offices in Islamabad. The shooters ran away when the guards fired at them. In December 2015, another television channel, Din News, was also attacked in Lahore injuring a staffer and two police constables. A militant group claiming itself to be an affiliate of ISIS, the Khorasan Group (Daulat-i-Islamia Khorasan), claimed responsibility for the attack. The Khorasan Group had also carried out an attack a month earlier. In November 2015 a hand grenade was thrown at the bureau office of Dunya News television in Faisalabad, the third largest Pakistani city. Two employees of the channel were injured. The extent of ISIS presence in Pakistan is unclear, and its appeal is not widespread. Yet, reports have suggested that the group is attempting to make inroads in Pakistan. Its presence in Afghanistan has already been confirmed as splintering groups of the Taliban have been professing allegiance to the ISIS leadership. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Pakistani consulate in eastern Afghanistan on January 13 that killed seven members of the Afghan security forces. […]

My interview with Interfaith Radio, DC

By | April 4th, 2016|Categories: Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Peace, Personal|Tags: , , , , |

Even as Lahore limps to normalcy

By | March 30th, 2016|Categories: Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Hindu, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for killing at least 72 people in a heinous attack in Lahore at a popular park where scores of families had gone to spend their Sunday. Images of wailing mothers and a bloodstained park continue to haunt the people of Lahore, Pakistan and the global community at large. Growing up in Lahore entails a relationship with its parks. Historically known as the city of gardens, it offers public parks like no other metropolis in Pakistan. The tradition is older, as before the merciless encroachments even the famed Walled City had gardens around it, remnants of which can still be found today. From the British-created Lawrence Gardens, now rechristened after the country’s founder, to the new ones, these parks are where most of Lahore’s population across class, faith and creed finds recreation, refuge and peace. A personal story Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which was attacked on Sunday, is one such public space in Lahore. I was a child when the park was created amid a large housing development known as Allama Iqbal Town, named after the national poet Muhammad Iqbal. (Iqbal’s tarana is still a second anthem in India. Such are the contradictions of our nationalist frameworks.) The scheme was called sola sau acre (1,600 acres) and catered to the galloping housing needs of the middle class. One of my aunts found her abode there, and each time we visited her, a trip to Gulshan-e-Iqbal was mandatory for our entertainment. I still have some faded Polaraid photographs taken by the vendors there. The attack on my city is more than a news detail for me. It is intimately violent. A disquieting personal calamity. Exactly two years ago I was also attacked in my own city. I survived that attack, but my companion did not and died on the spot. Another was injured. The list of victims is long and dreadful. I suffer from the burden of privilege that allowed me to escape the context to reclaim sanity, but the hapless families whose children died may not be that fortunate. As is the case that there are little or no trauma counselling services in Pakistan, and more often than not the perpetrators of such attacks remain outside the ambit of the justice system. More importantly, they are victims of a state that has not been too responsible towards its citizens, especially those surviving on the margins such as the poor, the minority groups (both Muslim and non-Muslim) and the ones who live in regions such as tribal areas where full citizenship is still denied through colonial instruments we conveniently forgot to reform. The attack on Gulshan-e-Iqbal is the second in the area. In 2009, close to the park, a busy trading centre called Moon Market was also attacked. The bombing resulted in at least 60 deaths, and dozens were injured. Who knows what happened to them? Once again most of the victims were women, children and random passers-by. A spiritual healer, Dr Ahmad, who was a guru to a close friend, died in that attack. That was the day when Pakistan’s terrorism problem actually reached into my inner circle. And within years, it reached my own doorstep. […]

Pakistan Needs Deradicalization Programs. Force Alone Won’t Cure Intolerance

By | March 30th, 2016|Categories: Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Huffington Post, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Even by Pakistan’s warped standards, recent turmoil in the country is extraordinary. On Sunday, a suicide bombing in a public park in Lahore killed more than 70 people and injured at least 300. Most were women and children. A Taliban splinter group that treats non-Muslims as inferior claimed the Lahore attack was an assault on Pakistan’s small and marginalized Christian community, taking advantage of the tradition of celebrating religious festivals in public spaces. While Lahore was still grappling with the immense tragedy, a rally in Islamabad turned violent. Thousands of demonstrators had turned out to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a former policeman who murdered a governor who had dared to criticize Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. The demonstration was organized by groups that follow relatively peaceful branches of Islam in South Asia. The protestors burned vehicles and reached the Parliament building in a high security zone. Their demands — other than declaring the executed policeman an official martyr — include the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan. Military action and executions are no substitute for structural reforms of schools and seminaries that breed intolerance. Together, these events represent many of the various shades of religious extremism found in Pakistan. From the country’s inception, disparate groups have continually contested Pakistan’s identity. The founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, mobilized Indian Muslims using religion as a marker of a distinct identity. When the idea of a Muslim homeland became reality, Jinnah quickly declared the need for religious tolerance. But he died soon after, and his successors — both civil and military — exploited religious imagination as a useful political lever to both maximize power and also build a new “nation” composed of diverse ethnicities and linguistic groups. The slide continued as the country acquiesced more space to religious extremists. Over the decades, Sunni clerics, representing the majority, pushed the state to adopt numerous laws and constitutional provisions that are semi-theocratic in nature. For instance, a non-Muslim cannot be the head of the state in Pakistan (and many other majority-Muslim countries). […]

WATCH: Raza Rumi Speaks Out on Countering Violent Extremism

By | February 18th, 2016|Categories: Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in Islamic Commentary, Religion, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 18, 2016: In November I had a chance to sit down with policy analyst, journalist, and scholar Raza Rumi at the ISLAMiCommentary office of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and speak to him about countering violent extremism in the Middle East and in Pakistan, and the plight of journalists in his native Pakistan. Rumi was at Duke to lead a conversation on “Countering Violent Extremism: The Case of Pakistan.” He had been invited by the Duke Pakistani Students’ Association and his visit was co-sponsored by the Sanford School of Public Policy, the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, and the Duke Alexander Hamilton Society. Rumi has been living in the U.S. since shortly after a March 2014 assassination attempt on his life that left his driver dead and guard seriously injured. While escaping with minor injuries, he said that after his car was ambushed he felt “insecure” and “traumatized,” and had to leave Pakistan after a few weeks. State agencies and local police, he said, couldn’t promise it wouldn’t happen again. (Police later reportedly implicated members of the Taliban-affiliate Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the attack) […]

In Bangladesh “the term ‘blogger’ has become a curse”

By | December 21st, 2015|Categories: Bangladesh, Blasphemy, Extremism, Pakistan, Published in CIMA, SouthAsia, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Around the world online freedoms are being threatened both by states and violent criminal organizations that are seeking to repress free speech. One glaring example is that of the endangered bloggers in Bangladesh who have been threatened, harassed, and killed. In 2015 alone, Islamic extremists have killed four bloggers and a publisher for their secular views. To date, the government has not found a way to counter these violent attacks against independent journalists. The murders have been gruesome. The most recent occurred on October 31, 2015, when Faisal Arefin Dipan, a publisher and a blogger, was hacked to death in his office in Dhaka. Ahmedur Rashid Tutul was attacked and wounded in that attack too. Just a couple months earlier in August, blogger Niloy Neel was murdered in his Dhaka apartment. In May, Ananta Bijoy Das, a blogger critical of religion was hacked to death. In March secular blogger Washiqur Rahman was also killed at knifepoint. These incidents followed the brutal murder of Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American blogger and writer who was attacked and killed near the campus of Dhaka University Campus in February 2015, which drew international rebuke. The tumult in Bangladesh has been brewing for a long time. In March 2013, a group of clerics announced a list of 84 “enemies of Islam” that was circulated by the Bangladeshi media. In August 2015, an unknown group identifying itself as Ittahadul Mujahidin, released a hit list with names of 20 bloggers, artists, teachers, and government ministers accused of insulting Islam. Thus, the situation in Bangladesh appears to be getting worse, not better. […]

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My interview with Interfaith Radio, DC

By | April 4th, 2016|Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Peace, Personal|

WATCH: Raza Rumi Speaks Out on Countering Violent Extremism

By | February 18th, 2016|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in Islamic Commentary, Religion, terrorism|

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 18, 2016: In November I had a chance to sit down with policy analyst, journalist, and scholar Raza Rumi at the ISLAMiCommentary office of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and speak to him about countering violent extremism in the Middle East and in Pakistan, and the plight of journalists in his native Pakistan. Rumi was at Duke to lead a conversation on “Countering Violent Extremism: The Case of Pakistan.” He had been invited by the Duke Pakistani Students’ Association and his visit was co-sponsored by the Sanford School of Public Policy, the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, and the Duke Alexander Hamilton Society. Rumi has been living in the U.S. since shortly after a March 2014 assassination attempt on his life that left his driver dead and guard seriously injured. While escaping with minor injuries, he said that after his car was ambushed he felt “insecure” and “traumatized,” and had to leave Pakistan after a few weeks. State agencies and local police, he said, couldn’t promise it wouldn’t happen again. (Police later reportedly implicated members of the Taliban-affiliate Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the attack) […]

Mumtaz Qadri – Salman Taseer- Blasphemy it was not

By | October 30th, 2015|education, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Religion, terrorism|

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri – the policeman who murdered former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for an alleged act of ‘blasphemy’. I analysed the implications. The Supreme Court of Pakistan on 7 October upheld the decision of the trial court and the Islamabad High Court and rejected the appeal against Mumtaz Qadri ’s death sentence. The defence lawyers had argued that because the slain governor Salman Taseer termed the blasphemy laws as “black laws”, Mumtaz Qadri had the right to kill him. Salman Taseer with Aasia bibi The obiter dicta from the bench, as reported in the press, were also encouraging. Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while discussing the case, remarked that “criticizing blasphemy laws does not amount to committing blasphemy” and that Mumtaz Qadri had no legal grounds to take the law into his own hands. The fact that such a remark clarifying that “questioning the blasphemy law is not blasphemy” becomes a cause for celebration says quite a lot about the socio-cultural milieu of Pakistan. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the apex court would have actually bought into the sham arguments presented by the defence lawyers and overlooked the rather clear admission of the accused. Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed The idea of committing violence as a religious obligation is neither alien nor criminal for a sizeable number of people However, the temporary euphoria after this judgment must not conceal the fact that a former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court and a former judge of the same court were defending the accused largely on theological grounds. In fact the former judge, Justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, in an interview declared that disliking kadoo (pumpkin) was akin to committing blasphemy, since that was a vegetable preferred by our Holy Prophet (PBUH).  While the verdict is an important step to establish rule of law, the lawyers who showered rose petals on Mumtaz Qadri will not disappear nor will young students who vandalized a vigil for Salman Taseer earlier this year. […]

Bridging the Divides: Muslims in Europe

By | September 11th, 2015|Arts & Culture, Islam, Published in Huffingtonpost|

Praying Imam Islam is ‘incompatible’ with Western civilization is what we hear at the start of a new film Journey into Europe that looks at the much-hyped dilemma in much of Western Europe. The film deals with cascading phases of recent history: From the inclusive times of Muslim Spain to Ottoman Empire; and from the colonization to twentieth century immigration of Muslims into European lands. This film comes at a time when Islamophobia as a political and cultural attitude is on the rise; and Muslim extremists are asserting their political power and dictating domestic agenda in many parts of the world. Caught between these two extremes are the majority of Muslims, who, while united by their faith, are neither a monolith nor hold uniform views about organized religion or its political dimensions. The diversity within Muslims is an oft-ignored reality. Even more invisible is the variegated history of Islam and its adherents. This is why Journey into Europe — a handiwork of Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University — is both important and relevant to the current crises brewing across European countries. A Pew Research Center study tells us Western countries with significant Muslim populations are getting worried. Since 2011, the general population that is ‘very concerned’ about Islamic extremism has increased. For instance, after the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staffers, two-thirds in France are ‘very concerned,’ 29% more than the 2011 poll. In Spain, 61% are very worried about the extremist threat; and roughly half in Italy (53%) and UK (52%) and 46% of Germans are apprehensive. Their worries have increased in the past few years. […]

Negotiating Freedom of Expression

By | July 23rd, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Published in CIMA, Religion, terrorism|

The unresolved debate on freedom of expression was reignited when Islamic militants killed 14 staffers of French magazine Charlie Hebdo last January, ostensibly for the cartoons that offended Muslim sentiments. Earlier this year, two secular bloggers were hacked to death in Bangladesh. In other countries such as Russia and Iran, writers and journalists languish in prisons on similar charges. The intersection of faith, politics, and history has influenced the global debates on the “limits” to freedom. In June, the Center for International Media Assistance, in collaboration with Media Diversity Institute, held a panel discussion on the limitations on the state of media in multicultural societies. An all-women panel, a rarity in itself, included Razia Iqbal (BBC), Courtney C. Radsch (CPJ), Milica Pesic (MDI), and a well-known academic Verica Rupar. Negotiating freedom of expression and respect for diversity is a delicate balancing act. The current crisis – of “Western” values versus Islamic teachings – is far beyond the problem of media ethics. Razia Iqbal at CIMA raised crucial questions about the social responsibility of journalists. For instance, is freedom of expression sacred, or is it a subjective construct located in the context of every country? The responses were spirited. Some felt that freedom of expression was linked to other rights such as privacy; and therefore it ought to be viewed in a subjective context. Panelists agreed that freedom of expression was a universal right, but that under certain circumstances, limitations were understandable. Journalists have to act in public interest, as they give voice to and act as public watchdogs on behalf of society. Therefore, media persons have to exercise discretion in deciding what to print or broadcast. That is at the core of the idea of “social responsibility.” Should journalists practice self-censorship and stay away from certain issues in multicultural societies? One panelist noted that journalism does not exist outside the boundaries of a given society; thus, it should reflect the inherent multiculturalism of a particular context. But this leads to self-censorship. The case of Egypt, among others, is instructive, as unprecedented self-censorship is taking place there due to the pressures exerted by the state and lack of legal protection available to journalists. Multiculturalism entails respect for free speech and the availability of public space to enable diverse groups to air their views. Violence changes this dynamic—perhaps for good. This is why Charlie Hebdo’s editor has announced that the magazine will no longer publish cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. […]

Raza Rumi: They Tried to Silence Me Once and For All

By | February 11th, 2015|Extremism, human rights, Islam, Journalism, Pakistan, Published in The Clarion Project, SouthAsia, terrorism, women|

I spoke with Clarion about fighting for fredom of speech when the price for failure is death. Raza Ahmad Rumi is a Pakistani policy analyst, journalist and an author. He has been a leading voice in Pakistan’s public arena against extremism and human rights violations.  In March 2014, he survived an assassination attempt in which his driver lost his life. Within weeks, he left Pakistan and has been affiliated with the New America Foundation and the United States Institute of Peace.  He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project’s Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about Pakistan, free speech and blasphemy legislation.   Clarion Project: You are a writer. What challenges have you personally faced due to what you write about extremism in Pakistan? Raza Rumi: When you write about growing radicalization and extremism and call for introspection, critique the role of clergy, then your writings are edited so as not to ruffle too many feathers. At times, one is labelled as anti-Muslim and anti-Islam for demanding a rational discourse on religion and its public manifestations. Earlier, this opprobrium was restricted to verbal abuse and attacks, but now it has taken a dangerous turn with the increase of blasphemy law victims and in my case an assassination attempt. Though I must clarify that writings in English draw less attention than those in the vernacular languages, I got into serious trouble due to my views aired on the mainstream Urdu broadcast media. My public engagement with media, academia/think tanks and civil society was too much for the extremists (backed by elements within the state) to handle. So they tried to silence me once for all. An angry mob riots in Pakistan.   […]

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Reclaiming One’s Voice

July 17th, 2014|Afghanistan, Extremism, human rights, India-Pakistan History, Indo Pak peace, Pakistan, Published in Kindle Magazine, SouthAsia, terrorism|

    Raza Rumi cuts through the high decibel terrorism rhetoric to voice some ground realities of Pakistan, all this while braving attempts on his life.     A few months back, I had to leave my country simply to ensure that I would not be left dead. The price of public positions is hard. Perhaps I had ruffled too many feathers or was simply unlucky to have caught the attention of those who tried to kill me. I am trying to make sense of things that may have fallen apart for me. But have they? I keep trying at making sense of my country, the one I belong to and the one I love immensely. Nuclear state. An Islamic Republic. A Failed state? Endless labels and categories have been accorded to what Pakistan represents today to the world at large. Some facts speak for themselves but perceptions are deceptive as they start morphing into realities. Pakistan is also a resilient country and inspires me to fight the odds, the demons that have to be defeated and the endless list of things that need to be done. Contrary to what most diagnose, Pakistan’s trajectory was not inevitable. The country’s founder, almost a demonic figure in India, attempted to set a direction in his August 11 speech by recognising that religion could mobilise people and politics but cannot be an instrument for governance. “We are starting with this fundamental principle,” said Jinnah, “that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.” The famous words followed: “…in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” Critics say it was too late. Others think this was the only way to shape statecraft when a new state had come into being. Perhaps all of this is irrelevant now. Sixty seven years later, Pakistan is hardly the country it was geographically or otherwise in 1947. […]

Aftermath of Taliban’s deadly attack on Karachi airport

July 12th, 2014|Afghanistan, Extremism, media, Pakistan, terrorism, video|

A deadly attack on Karachi’s International Airport has raised questions about Pakistan’s security and the government’s ability to thwart terrorist attacks. Pakistan was shaken to its core when militant commandos, disguised as government security forces, [...]

Exodus from Pakistan’s troubled north presents risks, opportunities

June 27th, 2014|Afghanistan, development, education, Extremism, governance, human rights, media, Pakistan, Peace, Published in CNN, terrorism, women|

By Raza Rumi, Special to CNN   Pakistan’s much-awaited military offensive in North Waziristan was launched more than a week ago, and followed an attack on Karachi airport that left at least 36 people dead. Due to the strategic calculations of the Pakistani state, North Waziristan has steadily fallen into the hands of motley militant networks, and has become a mountainous zone for the Pakistani Taliban to recruit, regroup and launch attacks against the country. The Pakistani Army conducted a similar operation in the Swat Valley in 2009, not too far from the tribal areas, that has been a relative success in reclaiming territory. It is unclear which direction the latest operation will go. But a major humanitarian crisis is brewing in the wake of the new offensive. As of Wednesday, the government had registered over 450,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who have been fleeing the area in view of the aerial bombardments and warnings by military authorities. There are fears the figures could be much higher. […]

My Name is Khan and I am not a Terrorist: IDP’s of North Waziristan

June 26th, 2014|Afghanistan, Extremism, governance, human rights, Pakistan, Peace, Storify, terrorism|

Here are some of my tweets shedding light on the plight of IDP's of North Waziristan and the long forgotten miseries of FATA. [View the story "My Name is Khan and I am not a [...]

Pakistani journalist shares why his work led to an attempt on his life

May 20th, 2014|Afghanistan, Extremism, human rights, Islam, Journalism, Lahore, Religion, terrorism, video|

I was recently interviewed by Al Jazeera TV - here is a video clip: Raza Rumi describes the state of the media in Pakistan, where 34 journalists were reportedly killed since 2008 http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201405062237-0023704 Journalist Raza [...]

Pakistan is not afraid of Modi’s win

May 19th, 2014|Afghanistan, Extremism, governance, India, Indo Pak peace, media, Pakistan, Peace, Politics, Published in the Express Tribune, Religion, SouthAsia, terrorism|

Finally, the verdict is out. The Indian electorate has given a clear message by electing Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) precisely in this order. The 16th general election in the neighbouring state was contested around the issues of governance, corruption and development. The dismal performance of the Congress’s second term was compounded by a leadership crisis, the diarchic model of governance and highly mediatised incidence of corruption scandals. Mr Manmohan Singh, despite his personal reputation, seemed helpless and at times, directionless. Modi seems to have fully benefited from the public disenchantment with coalition politics and a decade of Congress rule. India is now ruled by a right-wing party with a thumping majority. Unlike the earlier terms, the BJP is in a position to form the government on its own and the opposition has been virtually reduced to naught. […]

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WATCH: Raza Rumi Speaks Out on Countering Violent Extremism

February 18th, 2016|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in Islamic Commentary, Religion, terrorism|

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 18, 2016: In November I had a chance to sit down with policy analyst, journalist, and scholar Raza Rumi at the ISLAMiCommentary office of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and speak to him about countering violent extremism in the Middle East and in Pakistan, and the plight of journalists in his native Pakistan. Rumi was at Duke to lead a conversation on “Countering Violent Extremism: The Case of Pakistan.” He had been invited by the Duke Pakistani Students’ Association and his visit was co-sponsored by the Sanford School of Public Policy, the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, and the Duke Alexander Hamilton Society. Rumi has been living in the U.S. since shortly after a March 2014 assassination attempt on his life that left his driver dead and guard seriously injured. While escaping with minor injuries, he said that after his car was ambushed he felt “insecure” and “traumatized,” and had to leave Pakistan after a few weeks. State agencies and local police, he said, couldn’t promise it wouldn’t happen again. (Police later reportedly implicated members of the Taliban-affiliate Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the attack) […]

Mumtaz Qadri – Salman Taseer- Blasphemy it was not

October 30th, 2015|education, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Religion, terrorism|

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri – the policeman who murdered former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for an alleged act of ‘blasphemy’. I analysed the implications. The Supreme Court of Pakistan on 7 October upheld the decision of the trial court and the Islamabad High Court and rejected the appeal against Mumtaz Qadri ’s death sentence. The defence lawyers had argued that because the slain governor Salman Taseer termed the blasphemy laws as “black laws”, Mumtaz Qadri had the right to kill him. Salman Taseer with Aasia bibi The obiter dicta from the bench, as reported in the press, were also encouraging. Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while discussing the case, remarked that “criticizing blasphemy laws does not amount to committing blasphemy” and that Mumtaz Qadri had no legal grounds to take the law into his own hands. The fact that such a remark clarifying that “questioning the blasphemy law is not blasphemy” becomes a cause for celebration says quite a lot about the socio-cultural milieu of Pakistan. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the apex court would have actually bought into the sham arguments presented by the defence lawyers and overlooked the rather clear admission of the accused. Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed The idea of committing violence as a religious obligation is neither alien nor criminal for a sizeable number of people However, the temporary euphoria after this judgment must not conceal the fact that a former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court and a former judge of the same court were defending the accused largely on theological grounds. In fact the former judge, Justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, in an interview declared that disliking kadoo (pumpkin) was akin to committing blasphemy, since that was a vegetable preferred by our Holy Prophet (PBUH).  While the verdict is an important step to establish rule of law, the lawyers who showered rose petals on Mumtaz Qadri will not disappear nor will young students who vandalized a vigil for Salman Taseer earlier this year. […]

Dear Infidel: The Dilemma of British Muslims

October 28th, 2015|Arts & Culture, books, Pakistan, Published in Huffingtonpost, Religion|

I was a student in the United Kingdom when The Satanic Verses – the controversial novel by Salman Rushdie – created pandemonium across the globe. Images of the book being burnt were flashed across the television screens. My British Muslim friends were divided – some passionate about the issue of blasphemy, others unconcerned or detached from the divide. However, this moment marked a moment of imagination of a “new Islam.” Author Sadia Abbas has delineated this construction of the “violent” versus the “civilised” (Western world) in a new book entitled: At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament (Fordham University Press). With the “defeat” of Communism and move to “liberate” Kuwait in 1991, a new kind of sensibility was brewing. The September 11 attacks a decade later cemented this construction and today the Muslim, especially in the West is a loaded term open to multiple interpretations; and a new imagination of Islam rules the public mind. It is in this context that a recent novel Dear Infidel by Tamim Sadikali is an important work of fiction emanating from the United Kingdom where new Islam is also under heavy scrutiny. Sadikali, an authentic voice from the “hood” has both the panache and punch to weave a story around issues of “British Muslim” identity and how it is informed by race, ethnicity, dilemmas of assimilation. Dear Infidel is a story of disparate lives of young Brits negotiating multiple identities in a post-9/11 world. […]

Negotiating Freedom of Expression

July 23rd, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Published in CIMA, Religion, terrorism|

The unresolved debate on freedom of expression was reignited when Islamic militants killed 14 staffers of French magazine Charlie Hebdo last January, ostensibly for the cartoons that offended Muslim sentiments. Earlier this year, two secular bloggers were hacked to death in Bangladesh. In other countries such as Russia and Iran, writers and journalists languish in prisons on similar charges. The intersection of faith, politics, and history has influenced the global debates on the “limits” to freedom. In June, the Center for International Media Assistance, in collaboration with Media Diversity Institute, held a panel discussion on the limitations on the state of media in multicultural societies. An all-women panel, a rarity in itself, included Razia Iqbal (BBC), Courtney C. Radsch (CPJ), Milica Pesic (MDI), and a well-known academic Verica Rupar. Negotiating freedom of expression and respect for diversity is a delicate balancing act. The current crisis – of “Western” values versus Islamic teachings – is far beyond the problem of media ethics. Razia Iqbal at CIMA raised crucial questions about the social responsibility of journalists. For instance, is freedom of expression sacred, or is it a subjective construct located in the context of every country? The responses were spirited. Some felt that freedom of expression was linked to other rights such as privacy; and therefore it ought to be viewed in a subjective context. Panelists agreed that freedom of expression was a universal right, but that under certain circumstances, limitations were understandable. Journalists have to act in public interest, as they give voice to and act as public watchdogs on behalf of society. Therefore, media persons have to exercise discretion in deciding what to print or broadcast. That is at the core of the idea of “social responsibility.” Should journalists practice self-censorship and stay away from certain issues in multicultural societies? One panelist noted that journalism does not exist outside the boundaries of a given society; thus, it should reflect the inherent multiculturalism of a particular context. But this leads to self-censorship. The case of Egypt, among others, is instructive, as unprecedented self-censorship is taking place there due to the pressures exerted by the state and lack of legal protection available to journalists. Multiculturalism entails respect for free speech and the availability of public space to enable diverse groups to air their views. Violence changes this dynamic—perhaps for good. This is why Charlie Hebdo’s editor has announced that the magazine will no longer publish cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. […]

Save Palmyra From ISIS’s Rampage

June 26th, 2015|Arts & Culture, History, Published in Huffingtonpost, Published in The Huffington Post, Religion|

  Photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils, Myron Bement Smith Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have placed on view a relic from ancient Palmyra in Syria. In addition, the galleries are displaying images of 18th century engravings and 19th century photographs from its archives. In the wake of Daesh or the Islamic State’s offensive in Syria, this exhibition has attained a symbolic significance. Being held in the capital of the world’s only superpower with a questionable Syria policy, the display reminds us of what is at stake. It was exhilarating to be connected with this rich past of humanity and at the same time extremely devastating to remember that we live in a world where our ancient treasures can be wiped out while we look on helplessly. Haliphat – a limestone funerary relief bust on display at Sackler- stares at you with an intense expression. Her two fingers on the chin represent modesty and virtue. For a moment it seems like a reflection on what is happening in Palmyra today. Halpihat has been dated back to 231 C.E. The almost-alive figure displays Roman and Aramaic artistic styles, reminding us of how Palmyra was the bridge between the East and West. The Islamic State reportedly has planted mines and bombs in Palmyra. It is unclear if ISIS intends to destroy Palmyra or is using the threat as a strategy to deter attacks by Iraqi forces. Nevertheless, our collective heritage under grave threat. […]

Ideology, impunity & chaos

May 15th, 2015|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, Religion, terrorism|

The sheer barbarity of the attack on the Ismaili community in Pakistan’s largest and one of the more misgoverned cities shocked the country. It is not the first time that such a sectarian attack has happened. During the past two years, more than a thousand people have been killed in targeted sectarian attacks. However, this was the largest attack on Ismailis. The head of the Ismaili community, Prince Karim Aga Khan, rightly termed the massacre of 43 men and women “a senseless act of violence against a peaceful community”. It is ironic that the Pakistan movement owes its genesis to the contributions of Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III who was the founder, patron and the first president of the All-India Muslim League. In fact, the Quaid-e-Azam was born into an Ismaili household. Today’s Pakistan is clearly an unsafe place for this community. The National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism has been under implementation since December. Evidently, it is going nowhere. In January, dozens of worshippers were killed in an imambargah located inShikarpur, Sindh. There have been several other incidents of sectarian killings and now the Karachi carnage comes as a rude reminder that perhaps, the strategy to fight terrorism is flawed or is just another un-implementable document. While military action to eliminate hideouts of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may be a good short-term measure, Pakistan cannot curb the menace of extremism and terrorism without working towards an ideological reorientation. In March, the government reneged on two vital commitments: regulation of religious seminaries and dismantling of proscribed terrorist groups. In fact, such is the power of these militias that they have been openly holding rallies despite the announcement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while launching the NAP that “no armed organisation will be allowed to operate”. […]

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The Perils of Reporting in Pakistan

December 16th, 2014|Rumi|

The toll of Taliban attacks is measured in more than bodies. By MARY LOUISE KELLY Stay in the news business long enough, and you become hardened to brutality. But the reports from Pakistan overnight hit [...]

Writing from the Heart

March 15th, 2014|books, Delhi By Heart, Published in South Asia Magazine, Rumi, South Asian Literature, tourism, Travel|

What a Lovely Review on my book "Delhi by Heart" published  in South Asia Magazine! By Tariq Bashir Delhi by Heart is a passionate rendition of a great city’s story steeped in history and rich [...]

Analysis: Attackers punch hole in Islamabad security

March 10th, 2014|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, Rumi, terrorism|

Raza Rumi A police commandos stop a photo journalist near a local court building after a gun and suicide attack in Islamabad on March 3, 2014. PHOTO: AFP ISLAMABAD: Today’s suicide bombing at the Islamabad courts complex suggests that the capital and its sensitive installations are vulnerable. The premeditated murder of a judge, who had turned down an appeal made by the Lal Masjid clerics, has raised question marks for the future of Pakistan’s battle with terrorism. If judges are not secure in the capital, one wonders who will ensure their safety in less developed, remote districts where terrorist networks run their bases. A few weeks ago, interior ministry officials had told the nation that the capital was not safe. While briefing a Senate committee, the ministry termed Islamabad’s security situation ‘extremely dangerous’ due to the presence of militant groups. In particular, the risk was heightened due to the presence of alleged sleeper cells al Qaeda, TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) within the limits of Islamabad. The interior minister was quick to contradict his own ministry’s report and told the nation last week that reports of sleeper cells operating in Islamabad were exaggerated and that the capital was safe. He also insisted that neither foreign agencies nor terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, were operating from Islamabad.Nisar also announced a set of measures, which were being taken to improve the situation. Sadly, the political rhetoric has been exposed as today’s attack in Islamabad comes as a major security lapse right under the nose of the interior minister, leaving the prime minister red-faced for saying a bit too much. But at the end of the day it is about collective responsibility in a parliamentary system. The government’s vacillating policy on negotiating or fighting the militants has much to contribute to the worsening security scenario across the country. […]

‘On the wings of time, grief flies away’

March 16th, 2012|Arts & Culture, books, History, Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Personal, Published in The Friday Times, Rumi, South Asian Art, SouthAsia|

Salma Mahmud’s new book is not a just a readable memoir, it sets a standard for fine writing. MD Taseer with his first born, Salma Perhaps the most memorable time of my career as a media walla is to have worked with Salma Mahmud as a fellow editor and writer. Her writings for TFT have been noted far and wide, eliciting feedback from celebrities to obscure readers across the globe. While she was completing a series on her great ‘Uncles’ (friends of her eminent father M D Taseer), I suggested that these memoirs be turned into a book. After initially feigning scorn at the idea, she relented; and now we have Salma Mahmud’s ‘The Wings of Time’ – a book that is pleasurable for its sparse yet lyrical writing and valuable for the histories it puts together. These reflections and anecdotes would not appear in Pakistan’s official and highbrow historiography as the intent of the book is different. It is a recollection and a reclaiming, with lots of indulgence and warmth. Salma Mahmud, or Salma-ji, as I call her, is the eldest child of Dr M D Taseer, the noted poet and critic, the first Indian to obtain a PhD in English from Cambridge University. Her other sibling, the late Salmaan Taseer, also made his mark in Pakistan as a brave defender of human rights and offered his life while fighting bigotry against the powerless of the country. Salma was born in Baramula, Kashmir, and was later educated in Lahore where she attended the Kinnaird College before pursuing a Masters degree at the University of Edinburgh. Mahmud is considered a seasoned teacher of the English language and literature and her facility with words made her an ideal editor at TFT. During her career, she has also translated several pieces of Urdu fiction into English and written extensively on literature, history and art. As a quintessential daddy’s girl, Mahmud’s reverence for her father is evident throughout the book. At the same time, she doesn’t lose sight of the political and cultural context in which Dr Taseer lived and worked. She narrates the story of his times with exceptional honesty; illustrating the “the irreplaceable literary milieu in which he lived.” Indeed, the period of 1930-1950 witnessed immense turbulence but also gave birth to various literary and cultural movements. As the book and its rather deftly veiled melancholy mood tells us, the “milieu has vanished forever”. Mahmud chronicles this sadness and celebrates the histories of “a bevy of brilliant intellectuals who filled the existential void that existed within” Taseer due to his “aloneness”. Author, Mariam and Salmaan on a motorbike Mahmud’s mother, Christabel George, whom Taseer met at Cambridge, descended from a talented Huguenot family on her maternal side. She was the poet’s companion until his death in 1950. Her role in bringing up the three children was not less than heroic and Mahmud is rightly proud of her familial heritage: the complete package of literary taste, fondness for books and ideas and of course humaneness. Daddy, Uncle Majeed Malik, Mummy, Salma, Mariam and Salmaan The first part of the book, titled Prologue, has four chapters that provide a fine account of the luminaries whom Mahmud met as a child and continued to know and appreciate as she grew up. The sketches of her ‘uncles’ are unparalleled. For instance, we find out how writer and educationist Pitras [AS] Bukhari single-handedly saved UNICEF “from being closed down by the US government in 1952, when he made a spirited defence of the organization during a UN committee meeting.” Bokhari was our representative at the UN immediately after the creation of the new state. Mahmud writes that after hearing Bukahri’s defence, “Eleanor Roosevelt was so impressed by his eloquence that she declared the United States had decided to let UNICEF remain.” Having written about Pitras here and there, I felt completely ignorant as I found out from Mahmud that on Pitras’s grave in Westchester, this couplet by Robert Frost, written personally by the poet for Bukhari, is engraved upon the headstone: Nature within the inmost self divides To trouble men with having to take sides. […]

A portrait of Rumi

October 24th, 2011|Photo stories, Rumi|

Thanks to Taimur on Twitter, I found this portrait of Mevlana Rumi:

Soul of all souls

June 26th, 2010|Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

Soul of all souls, life of all life you are That. Seen and unseen, moving and unmoving you are That. The road that leads to the City is endless; Go without head or feet and you’ll already be there. What else could you be? — you are that. […]

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A message from Nizamudddin Dargah

March 27th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Sufism, Sufism and Sufi poetry|

I have never met Marta but the attachment to Nizamuddin Dargah has bound us for years. Yesterday I got this email and beautiful photographs from Marta Irene. Marta herself suffered a major accident in recent years and survived. Human connections… RR Dear Raza Rumi, After a long time I am finally back in Delhi for a short visit. My heart is an explosion of joy. It seems that I love everything here, pollution included: the voice of the Kabari-Wala, the barking dogs, the children playing in the street, the traffic, the exciting fragrance of flowers mixed with many less noble smells…But above all, the Dargah. 31 years have passed now since I wrote the essay you later published on your site. My passion has just kept growing, every day pushing me beyond the limit of my capacity of love, everyday leading me across my fears and my endurance. An extraordinary travel, and so much way to come ahead! Sitting in front of the Dargah, of course I also think of you. I have no news, and if I try to imagine your life, shivers run along my back…May God protect you with His grace. I know the Saint is close to your heart, He is the best Friend you could have. I send you a few pics of the Dargah, hoping to convey a little of its magic to you. With Love, Marta Franceschini […]

Why fanatics of today would not have spared Kabir

September 29th, 2015|Arts & Culture, Culture, India, Pakistan, Peace, Poetry, Published in Daily O, SouthAsia, Sufi poetry, Sufism, Sufism and Sufi poetry, Travel|

The murders of rationalists and threats to writers, negate what was achieved through centuries of cross-cultural exchange and intellectually robust reformist movements. “Friend You had one life And you blew it” Encountering Kabir in Ithaca, a small town in upstate New York, was an unreal experience. The occasion was a reading of new translations of the 15th century mystic bard by the eminent Indian poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. This slim collection entitled “Songs of Kabir” has been published by the New York Review of Books. At the homey Buffalo Street Books, Mehrotra recited some of his own powerful poems before he turned to Kabir. This is not the first translation. For years, Tagore’s translations have been popular. In recent years,  Linda Hess and Shukdev Singh, Vinay Dharwadker, and many others have attempted to interpret these poems in myriad styles. Mehrotra explained how the performers, who sing Kabir’s songs in their regional dialects and present his profound ideas for their particular audiences, inspired him. In a similar manner, he had treated Kabir’s verse as a modern poet. The result of Mehrotra’s endeavors is delightful as it retains the essence of the poetry, makes it accessible with the right level of punch for the contemporary reader. For instance, note the directness here: […]

Militancy in Sindh: End of our plural culture?

February 3rd, 2015|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in Daily Capital, Religion, Sufism, terrorism|

The recent carnage in Shikarpur has come as a shock for many Pakistanis. Rural Sindh, invisible from the view of Punjab and Karachi obsessed media rarely makes news unless there is a major political rally or the images of dying children that can enable some quick political point scoring. For the past decade, the land of Sufis known for its tolerant and plural ways has been the latest laboratory of Pakistan’s sectarian jihadists. Along the major highways, the mushrooming of seminaries is evident and the recent build up of hate crimes testifies to the ideological grafting that is underway. The Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi have since long succumbed to the madrassa-welfare complex that in part responds to state failure as well as fits into the security architecture. The largely secular Sindh and Balochistan provinces are now under attack to balance what is known in the official-speak as ‘inter-provincial harmony’. Balochistan has seen the worst incidents of sectarian terror in the past few years. Hazara settlements being bombarded with explosives hidden in water tankers, youth spaces such as snooker clubs attacked and young women going to college targeted, are incidents all too well known. But forgotten as they happen away from the centres of power. The sectarian outfits nourished in the populous plains of Punjab have branched out in Balochistan for a variety of reasons. The foremost reason is to challenge the nationalist movement with sectarian-religious passions. Media reports have also indicated that the sectarian militants may have infiltrated the ranks of some separatists but all of this is speculative thus far. Reporting from and on Balochistan is as perilous as covering Syria or Iraq these days. According to Reporters Without Border, Khuzdar is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. You are bound to get on the wrong side of major players: the security agencies and the militants. […]

Farzana Parveen and the death of the state

June 1st, 2014|Extremism, human rights, Islam, Lahore, Minorities, Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, Religion, Sufism, terrorism, women|

Farzana’s brutal murder represents all that is wrong with us. It has become a useless routine to condemn the most ghastly acts of violence and injustice in Pakistan. For many, these are daily occurrences and thus the levels of desensitisation have grown. So has the brutalisation of society, when it adapts to some bare facts and upholds and sometimes celebrates the worst of what constitutes custom, tradition or ‘culture’. What else would explain the fact that there were dozens of passerby near the Lahore High Court — known for its imposing architecture and not the delivery of justice now — who silently witnessed the death of a woman scorned for choosing her partner? Worse, the police did not intervene either. This has become the norm with what we know as the ‘state’ in Pakistan. It chooses to remain indolent, indifferent and even complicit at times. This has left the citizen vulnerable. The weaker you are, the more chance there is of your life meaning absolutely nothing. A few weeks ago, I underwent the worst of nightmares. Seeking help on a roadside with two wounded men: one almost dead and the other struggling to stay conscious. My romanticism for my own country was shattered on that fateful night of March 28. I am privileged and lucky that I escaped a brutal, unsung death but a life was lost. A large crowd had gathered to ogle at the blood sport but none of them was willing to help in taking a near-dead body out of the car. On a busy street, no car was willing to stop to take my injured driver to the hospital. Farzana’s death and her calls for help have only reopened my wounds — far from healed and as painful as before. This state of our society, drunk on honour, pride, ghairat and other medieval notions of self-worth, has crossed all tolerable levels of dysfunction. Yes, two girls were also hanged, allegedly gang-raped in India, and crimes against women are prevalent in other societies as well. But, at least, there is collective uproar, pressure on the governments and results. […]

Karbala and the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo-Muslim literature – Schimmel

November 24th, 2012|Religion, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

Thanks to a friend on Twitter I rediscovered this essay by the great Annemarie Schimmel which I had read in the pre-internet times. The essay entitled Karbala and the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo-Muslim literature is a remarkably panoramic review of how the themes of martyrdom and sacrifice are central to Islamic faith and Sufi principles. Schimmel looks at the older Persian poets, traces the evolution of Karbala motif in Sindhi Sufi poets such as Bhitai and later Urdu poetry of Ghalib. The essay moves to Iqbal and the commentary by Schimmel is most insightful as it puts his poetry and vision in the spiritual perspective. I hope this is widely read and popularised for this view is essential to countering the popular, ideological narratives on appropriating his poetry for Islamist ascendancy and hypernationalism in Pakistan. ***  I still remember the deep impression which the first Persian poem I ever read in connection with the tragic events of Karbala’ left on me. It was Qaani’s elegy which begins with the words: What is raining? Blood. Who? The eyes. How? Day and night. Why? From grief. Grief for whom? Grief for the king of Karbala’ This poem, in its marvellous style of question and answer, conveys much of the dramatic events and of the feelings a pious Muslim experiences when thinking of the martyrdom of the Prophet’s beloved grandson at the hands of the Umayyad troops. The theme of suffering and martyrdom occupies a central role in the history of religion from the earliest time. Already, in the myths of the ancient Near East, we hear of the hero who is slain but whose death, then, guarantees the revival of life: the names of Attis and Osiris from the Babylonian and Egyptian traditions respectively are the best examples for the insight of ancient people that without death there can be no continuation of life, and that the blood shed for a sacred cause is more precious than anything else. Sacrifices are a means for reaching higher and loftier stages of life; to give away parts of one’s fortune, or to sacrifice members of one’s family enhances one’s religious standing; the Biblical and Qur’anic story of Abraham who so deeply trusted in God that he, without questioning, was willing to sacrifice his only son, points to the importance of such sacrifice. Iqbal was certainly right when he combined, in a well known poem in Bal-i Jibril (1936), the sacrifice of Ismail and the martyrdom of Husayn, both of which make up the beginning and the end of the story of the Ka’ba. […]

‘I belong to Ranjha’ – the syncreticism of Lahore’s Shah Hussain

June 27th, 2012|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Published in the Hu Magazine, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

Lahore, the ancient city of Loh, the age-old halt for invaders, is also the home to eclectic Sufis. Men and women who shed conventions and discovered newer planes of spirituality found a home in this city. The merging of centuries’ old Indus valley bastion – the Punjab and its primordial language – with core strands of Islamic Sufism was a unique moment in South Asia’s cultural evolution. And, no one can better represent the composite soul of Lahore than its poet and Sufi master Shah Hussain, whose identity has forever fused with his Hindu disciple Madhu Lal. Those who seek Lahore’s Mela Chiraghaan or Festival of Lights still frequent the 16th century shrine of Madhu Lal Hussain. Shah Hussain’s father, Shaykh Usman, was a loom weaver, and his grandfather Kaljas Rai (Kalsarai) was a convert to Islam who gained the confidence of the state during the reign of Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Shah Hussain Lahori was born in 1538 AD near Taxali Gate, Lahore. His early religious education was followed by induction into the Qadiriya order by Hazrat Bahlul Daryavi at a very young age. As a devout Muslim in his early years, he gained a formal outward knowledge and imbibed the spiritual moorings of Lahore, including the blessings of Hazrat Usman Ali Hajvery, aka Data Saheb, whose shrine has guided scores of saints, fakirs and yogis for nearly a millennium. Hussain’s grandfather Kaljas Rai (Kalsarai) was a convert to Islam who gained the confidence of the state during the reign of Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq Mythological accounts suggest that at the age of thirty-six, while studying a commentary on the Quran, Shah Hussain was struck by a line which equated the ‘life of this world’ to ‘game and sport.’ He asked his instructor to explain the concept but his teacher’s response did not satisfy him. He is said to have interpreted this verse as a means to undertake sport and dance. It is said that Shah Hussain pursued dancing, sport and frolicking but his mentor Hazrat Bahlul Shah Daryavi was not alarmed as he thought his student was spiritually intact. […]

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Why fanatics of today would not have spared Kabir

September 29th, 2015|Arts & Culture, Culture, India, Pakistan, Peace, Poetry, Published in Daily O, SouthAsia, Sufi poetry, Sufism, Sufism and Sufi poetry, Travel|

The murders of rationalists and threats to writers, negate what was achieved through centuries of cross-cultural exchange and intellectually robust reformist movements. “Friend You had one life And you blew it” Encountering Kabir in Ithaca, a small town in upstate New York, was an unreal experience. The occasion was a reading of new translations of the 15th century mystic bard by the eminent Indian poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. This slim collection entitled “Songs of Kabir” has been published by the New York Review of Books. At the homey Buffalo Street Books, Mehrotra recited some of his own powerful poems before he turned to Kabir. This is not the first translation. For years, Tagore’s translations have been popular. In recent years,  Linda Hess and Shukdev Singh, Vinay Dharwadker, and many others have attempted to interpret these poems in myriad styles. Mehrotra explained how the performers, who sing Kabir’s songs in their regional dialects and present his profound ideas for their particular audiences, inspired him. In a similar manner, he had treated Kabir’s verse as a modern poet. The result of Mehrotra’s endeavors is delightful as it retains the essence of the poetry, makes it accessible with the right level of punch for the contemporary reader. For instance, note the directness here: […]

In An Antique Land

March 28th, 2014|books, Delhi By Heart, South Asian Literature, Travel|

Another review on my book "Delhi By Heart" appeared in Outlook Magazine India. By Venky Vembu In his novel The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh writes of the imagined cartographic lines that divide people in the Indian [...]

Writing from the Heart

March 15th, 2014|books, Delhi By Heart, Published in South Asia Magazine, Rumi, South Asian Literature, tourism, Travel|

What a Lovely Review on my book "Delhi by Heart" published  in South Asia Magazine! By Tariq Bashir Delhi by Heart is a passionate rendition of a great city’s story steeped in history and rich [...]

Rumi’s Dilli

September 10th, 2013|Arts & Culture, India, South Asian Literature, Travel|

Here is a wonderful review of my book in India’s Frontline magazine   The Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi is both an insider and an outsider as he explores the trail of Sufism to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. By SHUJAAT BUKHARI DELHI has been explored by scores of authors, both Indian and foreign. A few prominent books such as Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh (1990), Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity by Sam Miller (2008) and City of Djinns by William Dalrymple (2003) immediately come to mind. Being the political nerve centre of South Asia for centuries, Delhi has always had an attraction for foreigners. Its ups and downs, too, have a unique touch of beauty and now that it symbolises the unity in diversity of the world’s largest democracy, it must surely rank high as a destination. While we are familiar with the traditional representations of Delhi, a new book, Delhi by Heart by the Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi, is creating a stir in literary circles. A book on Delhi by a Pakistani is “intriguing”, given the atmosphere of hostility has existed between India and Pakistan for over six decades now. Stereotypes have worked well to keep the citizens of the two countries apart, though until 65 years back, the people and places of India and Pakistan had a lot in common. Which is why, when one opens this 322-page book, it turns out to be exceptionally different because it not only takes a reader through the insights of someone from an “enemy” country but also helps us to rediscover Delhi and its glorious past. […]

Walk with a Dehlvi

August 1st, 2013|books, India, South Asian Literature, Travel|

Another review of my book, Delhi by heart, over at the Indian Express One thing that can be said about Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi with a great amount of certainty is that he is a traveller. In recent years, he has travelled a lot between Lahore and Delhi, and, while in Delhi, between different parts of the city and Nizamuddin East. Many of these visits were to the Dargah Nizam-ud-Din Auliya located across the road from the house of his host. Rumi calls this book Delhi by Heart and from the first page, you can make out that a large space in his heart is occupied by Dilli. The Delhis of the past and the present are as enmeshed in the book as they are in reality and that is its strength. By his own admission, he has not planned the book. It follows its own logic, one thought leading to another, crossing man-made boundaries, sweeping across centuries and, suddenly, discovering a nugget of commonality, a strand of continuity, a shared shard of reality—and he shares that excitement with the reader. Rumi finds common strands between Lahore and Delhi and Amritsar, he finds also that the image of the “other” that he carries is reciprocated on this side as well. He finds similar fanatics on both sides, the RSS here and the Jamaat-e-Islami and others of their ilk there. And yet, it is the commonalities of love, heritage, architecture and music that he foregrounds. […]

Book review: Delhi of the past and the present

August 1st, 2013|books, India, Travel|

Here is a lovely review of my book, written by the esteemed Intizar Husain   Raza Rumi tells us that he aspired to be an author. His visits to Delhi offered him this opportunity and he availed it. In his exuberance, Rumi started writing without planning beforehand, knowing not how his narrative will end. The narrative, however, came to an end by itself. When published under the title Delhi by Heart, we had a precious book authored by Rumi. Delhi by Heart is a scholarly work but written in an unscholarly manner. Instead of posing as a scholar or researcher, Rumi likes to be seen as a stranger in a city hitherto unknown to him, a city enjoying the reputation of being the city of cities. Wonderstruck, Rumi wanders in the city, from posh areas of New Delhi to the narrow and dingy lanes of old Delhi. Walking about aimlessly, he enters a lane with shops on both sides selling roses and soon finds himself entering the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. To his amazement, Rumi is suddenly in a different city, traditionally known as Bais Khawaja ki Chaukhat, the threshold of 22 Sufis. Rumi feels that he is moving in a vast world which carries a touch of the divine, where the past and the present merge into each other and the Hindu-Muslim divide loses its edge. How easy to jump from here and land in the city of the Salateen-i-Delhi, to touch the threshold of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s khanqah where he preached to his disciples, Muslims and Hindus, about the peaceful coexistence of different faiths. At this point, Rumi’s wanderings seem to be transformed into a journey of discovery. Roaming through the world of mysticism and bowing at the dargahs of Chishti mystics, he knows much about this tradition and about the city of Delhi which has been the cradle of this tradition. But at the same time, Rumi wants to keep abreast with the present and learn about the contemporary Delhi. So he is also seen in the company of the modern intellectuals of the city — Khushwant Singh, Professor Mushirul Hasan, Sadia Dehlvi, Rakhshanda Jalil. His narrative easily shifts from the present to the past and from past to the present. […]

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Time Perception – BBC World

By | May 15th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan|

Mike Williams asks why some weeks just fly by but sometimes minutes can seem like hours? Why do we perceive time differently in different circumstances? Mike talks to Pakistani writer and broadcaster Raza Rumi, Claudia [...]

On Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

By | April 21st, 2016|Arts & Culture, History, Pakistan, South Asian Art, SouthAsia|

C.M. Naim's, A Professor Emiretus had shared this some months ago: "What an extraordinary man he was. Iftikhar Alam Sahib has been publishing books about him -- about his little known aspects, the kind of [...]

The party line

By | April 15th, 2016|books, History, Pakistan, Poetry, Published in The Friday Times|

My exclusive interview for the Friday Times with Kamran Asdar Ali about his book and the history of the Pakistani left Kamran Asdar Ali Your book employs an interdisciplinary approach with literary texts playing a major part. What were the key reasons for adopting such a hybrid approach? As I am trained as an anthropologist, my impulse has been that of an ethnographer while involving myself in history writing (looking for cultural patterns, the silences, the private sphere, the everyday). In the text I try to pay close attention to people’s lives, their writings and practices, I show the entanglement of their experiences in multiple and cross-cutting processes and political motivations. To capture these layers of Pakistan’s history, the book is based on oral testimonies, ethnographic fieldwork, memoirs, and archival research. Yet to excavate the nuances of people’s everyday existence during a particular era I also relied on fiction and literary texts. This provided me, as it does to numerous scholars who are trying to understand the cultural specificity of an era, a window into the life and times of the period I was trying to capture in the book. Reports, journalistic accounts, sociological descriptions and historical sources do provide an understanding of the past (as part of the formal archives), yet many historians use diaries and personal letters to enter the private and intimate domain. In these terms fiction also helps us understand the mood, sentiment and the affective experience of a particular moment in history. The bringing together of various genres of writing helps me to strive toward a more complete understanding of my subject matter. The acceptance of Pakistan by the Communist Party of India remains a contested issue. Did the Communists foresee that they would soon face intense repression by the new state?  The Communist Party of India (CPI) since 1942 onwards did seek to work with the Muslim League and also propagate Congress-League alliance. In pursuing this argument, CPI cadres worked closely with the Muslim League, at times joining the party in the 1945-46 elections. However, the CPI changed its position on Pakistan in 1946 and emphasised that the unity of India was the progressive point of view and partition would be a reactionary step. Later still in August 1946, the CPI issued a resolution asserting that surely the Muslim League represented the bulk of the Muslim masses, yet declared that the demand reflected the feudal and Muslim elite interests that sought to compromise with imperialism for a share in administering a divided India. Indeed, CPI finally did accept the creation of Pakistan by arguing for the division of the party itself during the Party Congress in 1948. But a deep suspicion of Muslim League politics and the agony over British India’s division was the overwhelming sentiment that was shared by a majority of party workers of all religions and ethnicities. Pakistan’s creation was, according to the CPI, non-progressive and hence reactionary. […]

Media in the Cross Hairs: Militants continue to Target Journalists in Pakistan

By | April 7th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in CIMA, SouthAsia, terrorism|

  Despite the commitments of the Pakistan government to protect journalists, media freedoms remain endangered in the country. Pakistani journalists continue to struggle with the threats posed by violent extremists who consider media to be a legitimate target. In fact, extremists often target the media because it ensures that they will get publicity in the form of coverage. Thus, journalists remain quite vulnerable as the government has yet to find workable mechanisms to ensure their safety in the country. On March 27, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban carried out a deadly attack on a busy park in Lahore that killed more than 72 and injured 300. In a message claiming responsibility on Twitter, the spokesman for the group was quick to warn, “Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media.” He also ominously added that the group was “waiting for the appropriate time,” presumably referring to an attack. The threat is not new. In 2014 the Pakistani Taliban issued a detailed fatwa that justified attacking the media and killing journalists. The Ongoing Threat and the Emergence of an ISIS-branch in Pakistan This new threat comes in the wake of earlier incidents that have made media workers anxious. On January 14, ISIS claimed that it launched an attack on a Pakistan TV station. Two assailants riding a motorbike threw an explosive device and fired gunshots at the ARY television network offices in Islamabad. The shooters ran away when the guards fired at them. In December 2015, another television channel, Din News, was also attacked in Lahore injuring a staffer and two police constables. A militant group claiming itself to be an affiliate of ISIS, the Khorasan Group (Daulat-i-Islamia Khorasan), claimed responsibility for the attack. The Khorasan Group had also carried out an attack a month earlier. In November 2015 a hand grenade was thrown at the bureau office of Dunya News television in Faisalabad, the third largest Pakistani city. Two employees of the channel were injured. The extent of ISIS presence in Pakistan is unclear, and its appeal is not widespread. Yet, reports have suggested that the group is attempting to make inroads in Pakistan. Its presence in Afghanistan has already been confirmed as splintering groups of the Taliban have been professing allegiance to the ISIS leadership. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Pakistani consulate in eastern Afghanistan on January 13 that killed seven members of the Afghan security forces. […]

My interview with Ithaca Times, U.S.

By | April 4th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, terrorism|

Recently I was interviewed by Ithaca Times, USA. Here is the text: The Ithaca Times sat down with Rumi to talk about his work—in past, present, and future—the state of Pakistan, and his impressions of the United States so far. Ithaca Times:You took an unorthodox path into journalism. Tell us a little bit about your background and how that informs your work now. Raza Rumi: I was a civil servant in Pakistan, and then got into international development. I was with the Asian Development Bank for nearly a decade, during which time I began to write for Pakistani papers. I was enjoying it so much, getting so much feedback, that I said, ‘Let’s give it a try and make it into a kind of career.’ In 2008 I took a leave from the Asian Development Bank and started editing the Friday Times, a liberal weekly newspaper in Lahore … My background gives me an immense edge in terms of commentaries and analysis. I write with that experience; I know which parts of government talk to each other, how transactions come into effect. […]

My interview with Interfaith Radio, DC

By | April 4th, 2016|Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Peace, Personal|

Even as Lahore limps to normalcy

By | March 30th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Hindu, terrorism|

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for killing at least 72 people in a heinous attack in Lahore at a popular park where scores of families had gone to spend their Sunday. Images of wailing mothers and a bloodstained park continue to haunt the people of Lahore, Pakistan and the global community at large. Growing up in Lahore entails a relationship with its parks. Historically known as the city of gardens, it offers public parks like no other metropolis in Pakistan. The tradition is older, as before the merciless encroachments even the famed Walled City had gardens around it, remnants of which can still be found today. From the British-created Lawrence Gardens, now rechristened after the country’s founder, to the new ones, these parks are where most of Lahore’s population across class, faith and creed finds recreation, refuge and peace. A personal story Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which was attacked on Sunday, is one such public space in Lahore. I was a child when the park was created amid a large housing development known as Allama Iqbal Town, named after the national poet Muhammad Iqbal. (Iqbal’s tarana is still a second anthem in India. Such are the contradictions of our nationalist frameworks.) The scheme was called sola sau acre (1,600 acres) and catered to the galloping housing needs of the middle class. One of my aunts found her abode there, and each time we visited her, a trip to Gulshan-e-Iqbal was mandatory for our entertainment. I still have some faded Polaraid photographs taken by the vendors there. The attack on my city is more than a news detail for me. It is intimately violent. A disquieting personal calamity. Exactly two years ago I was also attacked in my own city. I survived that attack, but my companion did not and died on the spot. Another was injured. The list of victims is long and dreadful. I suffer from the burden of privilege that allowed me to escape the context to reclaim sanity, but the hapless families whose children died may not be that fortunate. As is the case that there are little or no trauma counselling services in Pakistan, and more often than not the perpetrators of such attacks remain outside the ambit of the justice system. More importantly, they are victims of a state that has not been too responsible towards its citizens, especially those surviving on the margins such as the poor, the minority groups (both Muslim and non-Muslim) and the ones who live in regions such as tribal areas where full citizenship is still denied through colonial instruments we conveniently forgot to reform. The attack on Gulshan-e-Iqbal is the second in the area. In 2009, close to the park, a busy trading centre called Moon Market was also attacked. The bombing resulted in at least 60 deaths, and dozens were injured. Who knows what happened to them? Once again most of the victims were women, children and random passers-by. A spiritual healer, Dr Ahmad, who was a guru to a close friend, died in that attack. That was the day when Pakistan’s terrorism problem actually reached into my inner circle. And within years, it reached my own doorstep. […]

Pakistan Needs Deradicalization Programs. Force Alone Won’t Cure Intolerance

By | March 30th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Huffington Post, terrorism|

Even by Pakistan’s warped standards, recent turmoil in the country is extraordinary. On Sunday, a suicide bombing in a public park in Lahore killed more than 70 people and injured at least 300. Most were women and children. A Taliban splinter group that treats non-Muslims as inferior claimed the Lahore attack was an assault on Pakistan’s small and marginalized Christian community, taking advantage of the tradition of celebrating religious festivals in public spaces. While Lahore was still grappling with the immense tragedy, a rally in Islamabad turned violent. Thousands of demonstrators had turned out to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a former policeman who murdered a governor who had dared to criticize Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. The demonstration was organized by groups that follow relatively peaceful branches of Islam in South Asia. The protestors burned vehicles and reached the Parliament building in a high security zone. Their demands — other than declaring the executed policeman an official martyr — include the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan. Military action and executions are no substitute for structural reforms of schools and seminaries that breed intolerance. Together, these events represent many of the various shades of religious extremism found in Pakistan. From the country’s inception, disparate groups have continually contested Pakistan’s identity. The founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, mobilized Indian Muslims using religion as a marker of a distinct identity. When the idea of a Muslim homeland became reality, Jinnah quickly declared the need for religious tolerance. But he died soon after, and his successors — both civil and military — exploited religious imagination as a useful political lever to both maximize power and also build a new “nation” composed of diverse ethnicities and linguistic groups. The slide continued as the country acquiesced more space to religious extremists. Over the decades, Sunni clerics, representing the majority, pushed the state to adopt numerous laws and constitutional provisions that are semi-theocratic in nature. For instance, a non-Muslim cannot be the head of the state in Pakistan (and many other majority-Muslim countries). […]

A message from Nizamudddin Dargah

By | March 27th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Sufism, Sufism and Sufi poetry|

I have never met Marta but the attachment to Nizamuddin Dargah has bound us for years. Yesterday I got this email and beautiful photographs from Marta Irene. Marta herself suffered a major accident in recent years and survived. Human connections… RR Dear Raza Rumi, After a long time I am finally back in Delhi for a short visit. My heart is an explosion of joy. It seems that I love everything here, pollution included: the voice of the Kabari-Wala, the barking dogs, the children playing in the street, the traffic, the exciting fragrance of flowers mixed with many less noble smells…But above all, the Dargah. 31 years have passed now since I wrote the essay you later published on your site. My passion has just kept growing, every day pushing me beyond the limit of my capacity of love, everyday leading me across my fears and my endurance. An extraordinary travel, and so much way to come ahead! Sitting in front of the Dargah, of course I also think of you. I have no news, and if I try to imagine your life, shivers run along my back…May God protect you with His grace. I know the Saint is close to your heart, He is the best Friend you could have. I send you a few pics of the Dargah, hoping to convey a little of its magic to you. With Love, Marta Franceschini […]

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