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Islam and the Cold War baroque

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 […]

August 14th, 2015|Extremism, History, Published in The Friday Times|1 Comment

Peshawar attack: Pakistan’s 9/11 moment?



Pakistan faces a challenge largely of its own creation and only political processes can correct it, argues Raza Rumi.

The attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School and the killing of more than 130 children creates a new watershed in Pakistan’s battle against terrorism.

Maligned globally as a ‘hub’ of terror, Pakistan has suffered immensely in the past decade. More than 50,000 of its civilians have been killed and over 15,000 security personnel have laid down their lives.

Pakistan’s policy choices of the past have been far from sagacious and its purported self confessed identity as an Islamic State has not helped matters. More than that it is the curse of geography that has haunted the nation.

For 30 years, it has been an active participant in Afghan wars directly and indirectly and the perceived threat from the larger neighbour India is almost an article of faith.

December 16 also marks the anniversary of the humiliation that Pakistan suffered when in 1971 East Pakistan with India’s support became independent.

In 1947 the country’s founder called the country he created s ‘moth eaten’ and ‘truncated’ and since 1971 the insecurity has only grown.

How far is that an imagined construct, how much of it is to continue to run it as a martial State has been subject of unresolved debate — yet to be resolved.

The Afghan policy of the 1980s and patronage to the Taliban movement in the 1990s is part of that insecure worldview. National security has been defined in limited terms and the reliance on non State actors to work as support system for the formal security apparatus remains a policy tenet. Yet there are signs of change.

One such shift was the decisive operation against the militants launched in June. Thus far the operation was cited as successful with the regaining of territory and eliminating militant hideouts. […]

December 18th, 2014|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in Rediff, terrorism|1 Comment

‘Europe faces a huge challenge in dealing with its Muslim citizens’

I talked to Akbar S. Ahmed  about the perception of Islam and Muslims in the West


MannequinsMannequins dressed in brightly coloured headscarves at a shop in Cite, France

Raza Rumi: With the rise of ISIS, a global debate has ensued about Islam and its followers. ISIS adherents term their acts in sync with Sharia. What are your views on ISIS and its ideology?

Akbar S. Ahmed: Let me make some generalizations here based in research and reflection. ISIS can only be understood in the context of the collapse of relations between tribes and central governments and the implosion of tribal society. I go into this process in detail in my book The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a War on Tribal Islam in which I examine 40 case studies in detail across the Muslim world. In Pakistan we have seen something like ISIS with the emergence of the TTP, in West Africa with Boko Haram and Al Shabab in East Africa. Muslim tribes typically live by a code of behavior that emphasizes honor, hospitality, courage and especially revenge. This code has provided a kind of stability for centuries despite the fact that certain aspects of it such as taking revenge are against Islam. Yet after independence these tribes were integrated into modern states and the relationship between them and central governments has often been tumultuous. Today, in a trend seen especially since 9/11, Muslim tribal society is in chaos and the code of revenge especially is completely out of control. Support for ISIS comes from tribal groups in both Syria and Iraq who have been oppressed both by central governments in Damascus and Baghdad. There is nothing Islamic about what they are doing, but their actions can be explained through the mutation of the code of revenge. When they kill western hostages, for example, they say explicitly this is to take revenge for airstrikes. Similarly, the TTP has taken similar action against Pakistani soldiers in revenge, they say, for drone strikes. There has been simply too much suffering in these societies as ordinary people are confronted with airstrikes, drones, suicide bombers, and tribal feuds. In order to remedy the situation and bring stability and peace, we must all have a clear idea what is going wrong. We must not confuse the minority of militants with the larger tribal society from which they come—as has too frequently been done. We must work toward a situation where the tribal people of Muslim countries feel they are treated as full citizens of the state with respect for their human rights and opportunities for economic development. It is only then that the violent forces in these societies will be effectively checked.


9/11 and Deluded Pakistanis

September 12th, 2014|Extremism, Middle East, Pakistan, Storify, terrorism|0 Comments

Book review: A psycho-social perspective on terror

By Raza Rumi

The launch of Dr Unaiza Niaz’s excellent book in September was most symbolic, as the world commemorated the ghastly incident of 9/11 and the subsequent ten years of ‘war’. The global media pundits had remarked that the world will not be the same place after 9/11. In our neighbourhood we have seen a gruesome war and occupation in Afghanistan; and its spillover into Pakistan making it a playground for terrorists of all shades and hues.

Iraq is another tragic fallout of the 9/11. A war launched by the military-industrial complex with ‘sexed up’ evidence to use the British admission has led to nearly a million people, dead, missing or invisible not to mention the wanton destruction of a country. The continued struggles in Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine are sizzling stories of politics, high-level negotiations and bargains. However, those who have been through this mayhem remain invisible or at best random statistics. This is why Dr Niaz’s book is so important and timely: it puts forth the lost narratives, the spiraling traumas and continued dislocation and loss of bearing.

Dr Niaz’s book serves as a great framework for all those who wish to understand what happens to the victims of terrorism, war, and violence. In Pakistan we have lost over 35,000 Pakistanis to the monster of terrorism and there are hundreds and thousands of men, women, children who have been affected by this syndrome. Unfortunately, we are severely short of trauma counsellors and virtually incapable to deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as Dr Niaz explains in her brilliantly accessible chapters. More nuanced accounts of complex trauma and developmental trauma are also explained in detail with references and examples. In a way, this book is a vital, state of art compilation of most recent research and academic formulations on this critical subject.Another important strand in the book happens to the manner in which terrorism and its Islamic linkages have been debunked in the chapter contributed by Dr Idriss Teranti. It calls for the revival of Islam’s progressive and humane side instead of the Wahabi-Salafi onslaught witnessed these days. The book also dispels the myth that terrorists are mentally ill. The chapter on Algerian experience authored by Dr Idriss and Mohammad Chakali is a powerful account as it talks about the traumatism and resilience of people.

Wars, Insurgencies and Terrorist Attacks:
A Psycho-Social Perspective From The Muslim World
by Unaiza Niaz
Oxford University Press
Hardcover PP 350
Price: $49.95

The situation in Afghanistan is dire. Thirty-two years of continued trauma has distorted generations and the meaning of existence there. This is an important document for them too, and everywhere in the Muslim world where war and misery have destroyed lives and homes

My favourite part of the book is the chapter co-authored by Dr Niaz and Seher Hasan entitled Insurgencies in the Muslim world. It is closer to home as well. Since 2009, I have been advising a United Nations agency on post-conflict governance and development strategies. I had a chance to visit KPK and FATA after the IDP crisis where millions had to move away from Swat, Buner and Mohmand due to military operation. Having visited the IDPs and learnt of their stories, my economic and institutional analyses seem incomplete without the essential human aspect of the post-conflict trauma. Unfortunately, the federal and provincial governments had no clue or were completely ill-equipped to deal with the lives of women trapped in their tents in the scorching heat of May and the children who had lost their parents and guardians.

During 2010, I was also a part of the Post Crisis Needs Assessment carried out by the Government with the support of the United Nations and other International Agencies. Talking to men and children of FATA (I had little access to women) the meanings of complex and developmental traumas. The ongoing conflict is a reminder for all of us to focus our attention to the citizens of FATA and KPK and how they have been dealing with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Pakistan Army and criminal gangs who have made life a living hell for people of Pakistan.

There are strong policy implications to Dr Niaz’s research and ongoing work. There are essential gaps in state’s medical […]

October 23rd, 2011|books, Culture, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|1 Comment

Some sobering lessons

By Raza Rumi:

Adecade after the ghastly attacks on the Twin Towers, the world has not changed. It is business as usual: imperial projects, ‘dangerous’ foes and millions of hapless, voiceless people. 9/11 was a reprehensible act perpetrated by a desperate and rogue network whose ideologues had hijacked a faith and its symbolism long before they started to assert their worldview by force.
While most 9/11 perpetrators belonged to the Middle East and its infamous Holy Kingdom, Pakistan emerged as the epicentre of terror in the global imagination and continues to occupy that exalted position. Its neighbourhood has been ransacked and occupied by the liberators and now the war on terror has turned into a contested, essential Pakistani experience. Nearly a million people in Iraq are dead or missing but never mind. It is time for the West to take stock of what happened due to a relentless pursuit of ambition and greed of an unaccountable, omnipotent war industry. […]

October 16th, 2011|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, Sindh|1 Comment

Muslimness – shifting boundaries

Muslimness is an elusive state of being. There are watertight strictures of the theological identity defined by men, interpreted as the Sharia, on the one hand; and the broad political and cultural sense of the self, on the other. Identity, in any case, is a messy affair: shifty, shifting and eventually, imagined. While 9/11 placed Muslims at the centre stage of global politics, the broth had already been simmering in the cauldrons of biased academe and pop reality mirrored through the blood-thirsty lens of corporate media.

So what is it to be a Muslim? An inflexible bag of rituals? Or a cultural sense of belonging or a deeper dogma ingrained in young minds? I have never considered myself anything but a believer, a ‘practicing Muslim’. This has never been at variance with my secular and inclusive pretensions, despite the fact that the clergy in my country considers secularism akin to atheism, a sort of mirror image of the Pakistani political foundation. The clerics translate secular as la-deen , at best irreligious, and at worst, godless.

Ironical that this business of religious identity is articulated in a land that was the crucible of the secular Indus Valley civilization, non-militant Buddhism and a peculiar version of South Asian Islam that spread via the Sufi khanqahs and was a sort of amalgam of the Central Asian with the ancient South Asian. Even more ironical is the reality, neglected and veiled, that lived Islam is located around dargahs , tribal codes and customs which are irreligious in their own way. But who cares? Referred to as the world’s most dangerous country, Pakistan, according to the pundits of global opinion, is a haven for Islamic terrorists. Collateral damage, therefore, is kosher and a necessity to undo the unstated part of the ‘axis of evil’.

Labels and more labels. On the global shelves such products sell well and work in favour of a war machine hungry for energy resources, territory and blood. […]