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Bridging the Divides: Muslims in Europe

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 […]

September 11th, 2015|Arts & Culture, Islam, Published in Huffingtonpost|2 Comments

Islam and its more dangerous variants: interview with Raza Rumi, a survivor of religious extremism

By Daniele Grassi

Following the recent events in Paris, Europe has had to face its own fear and vulnerability. Europe’s own identity has been called into question, more importantly, so has its commitment to shaping an open and tolerant society. Above all, the attacks are putting a strain on relations with Islam, a religion that is becoming increasingly associated with terrorism and other forms of extremism.

“Is Islam compatible with democratic values?”. “To what extent is terrorism affecting Islam’s evolution?”
These are some of the issues debated with Raza Ahmad Rumi, a leading voice in Pakistan 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 since been working with the New America Foundation and the United States Institute of Peace.

Raza Rumi10
The attacks carried out in Paris have reinforced, amongst large sectors of the Western population, the idea that Islam is incompatible with the traditional values of democracy. What’s your view on this?
“In recent times the gap between those practicing the Islamic faith and liberal Europe has never been as wide as it is currently. Muslims feel alienated within the value system of Europe, but they also want to reap the benefits and the opportunities provided by the European democracies and economies. Europeans, while welcoming Muslims into their homeland, always expected them to follow their laws while practicing the Muslim faith. However, the recent attacks in Paris have jolted the Europeans and have triggered a new debate about the nature and future of relations between Muslims and Liberal Europe. There is a need for open dialogue between Muslims and liberal Europe in order to determine the future shape of Western society and Muslims’ roles within it. However, more importantly the Muslims need to take an introspective look at themselves and take responsibility for allowing hardliners to preach radical messages, from minority schools of thought such as the Salafi and Hanbali, which justify violence”. […]

January 22nd, 2015|Extremism, Journalism, Published in East Magazine|0 Comments

Islam Needs Reformation from Within

“Would you permit me to teach my children that God is greater, more just, and more merciful than all the (religious) scholars on earth combined? And that His standards are different from the standards of those trading the religion” — Nizar Qabbani, Syrian poet.

Much has been said about the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and its slain cartoonists and their provocative cartoons about Muslims. Satirical representations of the Muslims in Europe do merge with racism and evoke destructive passions. But the barbaric killing of journalists exercising their right of free speech is beyond condemnable. It strikes at the heart of press freedom.

Muslim communities in most Western countries view themselves as besieged collectives. Issues of integration, racism and the colonial baggage resonate each day. But in the past two decades especially with the rise of violent extremism as global phenomena, these complexities have become even more intractable.

By brutally killing staffers of Charlie Hebdo magazine, the violent extremists have offended their faith far more than the perceived blasphemy of the magazine. Theirs is a political ideology — of using terror as a weapon — to avenge a history, to settle grievances and to assert power through violence.

Billions of men and women who practice Islam often have little input in shaping such narratives of hatred. Such violent ideas emanate from the minority schools of thought within Islam, which rationalize the killing of ‘infidels’ and their ‘associates’. This ideology is the same that hounded Salman Rushdie, and killed Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam for a film.

Ironically, the main targets of this ideology have been Muslims themselves. From the mass killings of Hazara Shias in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the ongoing killing spree in Syria and Iraq, it is the Muslims that bear the brunt of this violent mindset.

Dozens of Sufi shrines and hundreds of schools have been blown up in Pakistan by extremists. Most of the 50,000 Pakistanis killed in the last decade were Muslims. And in this day and age this ideology prevents the majority of Pakistanis to access YouTube simply because somewhere, someone lampooned the holy figure of Islam.

[…]

Blasphemy Divide: Insults to Religion Remain a Capital Crime in Muslim Lands

Excerpt of My statements:

“The issue of blasphemy is about the political insecurity of the Muslims, and about the Muslim public reaction to the so-called injustices committed by the West,” said Raza Rumi, the editor of Pakistan’s Friday Times newspaper who survived an assassination attempt by Islamist extremists last year and is now a senior fellow […]

‘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.

[…]

Selective Protest of Pakistanis on Gaza

I pointed out the selective outrage of Pakistanis on Gaza under attack by Israel while remained silent on the killing by Taliban in Pakistan.

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