Islam

Farzana Parveen and the death of the state

1 June 2014

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. (more…)

Pakistan: At the edge of the abyss?

25 May 2014

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is used to fuel violence and death.

 

 

The recent murder of a brave human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman reminds us of the society we have shaped. It is now an unregulated space where even defending the rights of an accused is a crime. Rehman had made all the threats, including those in the courtroom, public. The local state authorities did next to nothing to protect him or rein in the individuals and groups preaching violence. It seems when it comes to religiously motivated violence the might of the state disappears. Victims of blasphemy law are no longer fit for due process. They need to be punished directly. A few days after the murder of Rehman, another accused of blasphemy was shot dead by a teenager in a police station near Lahore.

Since the brutal murder of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, debates on the colonial blasphemy law have disappeared from the public domain. Those who advocated against its misuse were also silenced through litigation in courts by the right-wing lobbies that no longer constitute the lunatic fringe. In fact, the idea of blasphemy as a threat to Pakistan’s carefully constructed “Islamic” identity mixes passion, politics and power. A state that quietly smiles at the success of its project is now complicit in mob justice and even brutal killings such as the one that took Rashid Rehman’s life. (more…)

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

20 May 2014

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 Rumi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by members of the Taliban network in Pakistan on March 28, 2014.
He joins Aljazeera host Antonio Mora to discuss why journalists in Pakistan often put their lives in danger.

Policy paralysis haunts our security

22 March 2014

By Raza Rumi

Pakistan’s government has appointed a new committee to conduct ‘peace talks’ with the Taliban. The old committee, with journalists acting as peace-brokers, has been replaced by a coterie of bureaucrats who, in spite of their solid credentials, are likely to be men without a mandate. The talks between the TTP and the government in Islamabad will remain in a flux as the right-wing politicians most keen to engage with them still refuse to deliver on what they have sold to the general public — that you can actually negotiate with groups that have killed 50,000 Pakistanis including over 4,000 security personnel. Why do the government’s peace committees have no politician in them?

A recent report by The Wall Street Journal stated that the Pakistan Army has lost almost twice as many soldiers in the conflict with Taliban fighters as the United States (March 10, 2014). Yet, the civilian government and the army are opting for negotiations. This baffles plain logic unless there is a greater strategy at work. The civilian leadership seems split as the interior minister defends the TTP, while the defence minister warns of a military operation. At the same time, most of the demands put forward by the TTP can only be met if the military agrees to deliver on them. Thus, the future of talks remains dogged by this inherent divergence in the power structure within Pakistan. (more…)

At the Abyss

13 November 2013

By Raza Rumi

tft-39-p-8-a-600x349The recent drone strike in Pakistan’s northwest has eliminated an enemy of the state and his close associates. Hakimullah Mehsud’s death in North Waziristan has shaken the loose alliance of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In any other country, the security policy managers would have capitalized such an opportunity. Not in Pakistan. In fact the reaction from the political parties, which had recently vowed to hold talks with TTP to secure peace, are alarming to say the least. Despite the great urge of politicians to hold talks, there were murmurs that the military may not be too excited about this development even though the COAS Gen Kayani gave his public assent saying that the army was following the political consensus. A PTI leader recently posted on social media that there was only a 40% chance of success for a military operation. However, the party stalwarts on social media later refuted this claim.

Independent security experts and political commentators have been highlighting that the simplistic, populist solution of ‘talks-will-lead-to-peace’ was designed to fail. Whom would the government negotiate with? What would be the conditions? Would the TTP end its terror attacks against Pakistani state and its citizens? All of these questions were unanswered. Yet, Hakimullah’s death has invited a barrage of reactions from politicians and right wing media that the latest drone strikes were a ‘murder of peace’. (more…)

Understanding Contemporary Muslimness

1 November 2013

A review of Naveeda Khan’s  book Muslim Becoming published in “The Book Review

I wanted to learn what it meant to know Islam in Pakistan and why this knowing was so easily brushed  aside.

It is a welcome addition to the rather scant literature on  Islam, identity and Muslimness in contemporary Pakistan. Khan begins by presenting a debate between four librarians of differing religious persuasions. Deep within the stacks of the Provincial As- sembly Library, four men take part in a dis- cussion that highlights the marked differ- ences in their belief systems. Of the four, one is a Shia and the other three Sunni. Among the Sunnis, one identifies himself as a Deobandi, one as a follower of Ahl-e-Hadis sect, and the third as a Barelvi. Akbar, the follower of Ahl-e-Hadis school of thought, speaks at length of the superiority of their mosques as ‘they allowed laymen to give ser- mons and encouraged women’s participation in congregational  prayer’. Despite his reverence for mosque culture, Akbar is derisive of the thought of praying at the Prophet’s mosque in Medina.

It  is  commendable to  pray at  the Prophet’s  mosque, but it isn’t  necessary. Some among us have made it into a re- quirement by saying such things as, the Prophet is alive there, he can hear your prayers and he can grant you your wishes. Such claims are bid’a. One cannot pray there until such time as this bid’a has been vanquished… (more…)

Fighting the existential battle

10 November 2012

What is the real, existential cause for
concern — the imagined enemy, or a real, functional terror network in the shape of the TTP?

Published in The News, October 2012

The renewed attacks of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) across the country indicate the exasperation of this anti-state network trying to re-assert its strength in the face of Pakistan Army’s operations as well as the drone strikes by the U.S., which have now turned into a major political plank for most political parties.

The illegal drone strikes have targeted Al Qaeda leadership as well as the TTP stalwarts, leading to the dispersal of militants’ leadership and the relocation of Al Qaeda, reportedly to several urban centers of Pakistan.

The ‘popular’ Imran Khan led his march to Waziristan (without being able to set foot in the tribal agency) and created a kind-of media consensus that Pakistan needed to pull out of “America’s war” and make peace with the Taliban or, more fantastically, enable the threatened tribals to take on the Taliban themselves.

This fanciful and simplistic narrative omitted a vital segment of reality: the TTP is pitted not just against the United States’ “imperial designs” — it also considers the state of Pakistan as its enemy. These Kharijites of the 21st century use religious appeal to justify and rationalise extremely violent and barbaric acts, and consider the existence of pluralism within the fold of Islam as an anathema. They consider women’s education to be un-Islamic and consider a constitutional democracy as an infidel imposition on the faithful.

Unlike other insurgent groups in Pakistan, TTP wants to demolish the state of Pakistan and its constitutional basis in line with Al Qaeda ideology. Readers doubtful of this polemic should refer to Al Zawahiri’s famous treatise called “The Morning And The Lamp”, freely available on the Internet. If they are further interested, they could refer to any bookshop where such materials are widely available. This is how we have allowed anti-state doctrines to penetrate our public life.

The most brazen act of targeting a 14-year old girl, Malala Yousafzai, immediately after Khan’s march came as a game-changer. The “public opinion” shaped by Taliban apologists faced the biggest jolt, the biggest after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007. Even the conservative and religious sections of Pakistani society could not help condemn this barbarity, and for a day or two, it appeared as if there was a major consensus emerging in the country that put homegrown terrorist networks such as TTP before the imagined enemies such as India or the United States.

However, this consensus was breached by the usual suspects such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, which termed the Taliban as their brothers, obfuscating the real issue of a girl child not being allowed to go to school. The JI also went ahead and, on various social media platforms, released pictures of Malala and her father meeting the late Richard Holbrooke, thereby suggesting that Malala’s family were CIA agents and “legitimate targets” of the TTP. This came as a shocking reminder to the country on the lack of clarity and deliberate confusion spread by the apologists for brutal groups such as the Taliban. (more…)

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