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

I spoke with Clarion about fighting for fredom of speech when the price for failure is death.

Raza Rumi9

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.

Clariton1
An angry mob riots in Pakistan.

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Anchorless rambling

We did it again. A hallmark of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan was her meeting with the stars of the Pakistani media – the all-knowing anchors who have taken it upon themselves to be the “representatives” of Pakistan. Forget the President elected by all the legislatures, the Prime Minister who enjoys the confidence of the National Assembly, and even the Foreign Minister, who at the end of the day was elected from a constituency with a huge majority and nominated by the ruling party.

Such constitutional niceties are of little value. What we witnessed with a motley group of top anchors was a repeat of their daily performance on the idiot box, and the discourse with America’s second most powerful politician was familiar and disappointing. A senior journalist based in Lahore remarked that even the young students at the Government College University came up with better questions than the exchanges aired on television.

Who are we? Muslim, South Asian, Arab? No clear answer, because we are ten different things at the same time, and while the rest of the world is comfortable with multiple identities, Punjab’s urban middle classes crave a singular Islamic identity but want it with all the world’s frills. This is why we cheer the blowing up of the World Trade Centre and at the same want to live in New York. This is why the Islamo-fascist hate-America crowd is at ease with their progeny studying in the United States […]

November 11th, 2009|media, Politics, Published in The Friday Times|3 Comments