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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

The Perils of Reporting in Pakistan

The toll of Taliban attacks is measured in more than bodies.

Stay in the news business long enough, and you become hardened to brutality. But the reports from Pakistan overnight hit me hard on Tuesday morning. How to comprehend such evil? One hundred forty-five dead at the Taliban’s hands, more […]

December 16th, 2014|Rumi|0 Comments

Watching the watchdog

“Democracy is like an infertile woman that cannot produce anything”, thundered a popular columnist (a real opinion-maker) at the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America (APPNA) convention held in Washington, DC. A few women participants objected, but overall, the trashing of ‘democracy’ back home in Pakistan was applauded by many a successful professionals present in the audience. Later, at another event I heard the view by a speaker that Muslims and democracy are incompatible. These are not isolated sentences. A worldview that Pakistan’s Urdu media has cultivated considers democracy a colonial legacy that the British left. A few go to the extent of arguing that in an Islamic Republic a Caliphate is the only option.

Another columnist recently wrote how our democratic and constitutional system is the “rotten dress which protects certain segments of society” and now the time had come to decide if we could live with an ‘itchy’ body [politic]. Considering that half of Pakistan’s existence has been under the rule of a narrow group of civil-military bureaucracy, it is difficult to argue how can even a most imperfect democracy not be more inclusive? […]

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

Pakistan: A transitional polity

By Raza Rumi

Pakistan’s existentialist crisis is no longer a strictly Pakistani issue. Its potential repercussions have emerged as a cornerstone of global debates on regional stability and international concerns on terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The clichés on Pakistan’s disintegration and meltdown have also been done to death in the international media and policy brigades across the world. Perhaps, what the world has not yet fully comprehended is that Pakistan is essentially a transitional country where the old order is crumbling, giving way to a newer society that is grappling with geostrategic compulsions, domestic violence and a post-colonial state which refuses to realign its structures and priorities to a ‘new’ Pakistan.

To begin with, never in Pakistan’s history have so many women been active in the public spheres: from higher education to the workforce and from subaltern resistance movements to national politics. The two leading public sector universities i.e. the Karachi and Punjab Universities respectively, cater to a majority of female students. It is no coincidence that women parliamentarians are far more active in the national assembly and senate and not even shy of resisting patriarchy and clergy in their public roles. Increasingly, urban Pakistan is shedding its traditional conservatism by creating space for women’s inclusion in the media, and other segments of the services sector (also the largest contributing chunk of the GDP). […]

May 19th, 2011|Personal|5 Comments

Pakistan: A failing society?

My recent op-ed:

A couple of weeks ago a conference at the Lahore School of Economics allowed me to pontificate on how Pakistan is fast turning into a failing society. The context was how fractured federalism and an unstable political system had resulted in the social exclusion of a majority of the population.

The net result has been that we are a society that is divisive with embedded violence all around. Much has been said about Pakistan as a failing or failed state. Such prognoses have been manufactured in the dominant capitals of the West. True, such claims are exaggerated and self-serving for they provide a tailored worldview that Pakistan is a place that needs to be ‘fixed’.

While we are cognisant of such imperatives, let us not be blind to our deeply iniquitous and un-just society that needs major healing, reconciliation and perhaps surgery. Pakistan from 1947 to 1971 could not become a cohesive society, as the cultural-political identity of the Eastern Wing, now Bangladesh, was never accepted. Efforts to create a uniform identity failed and ultimately our majority province severed all ties with us. Ironically, this was a province at the forefront of the Pakistan movement. […]

Amankaar Tehrik (peace movement) in Pakistan challenges the status quo

Courtesy Fouzia Saeed


Myth: The root cause of Terrorism is extreme poverty and lack of education
Reality: This is not true. There are many countries in the world that suffer from extreme poverty but do not have terrorist groups.  Within Pakistan many areas are more poor than Swat, but have not become violent. On the other hand people who have become terrorists are not doing anything to eradicate poverty or provide education. Terrorists merely use the resentment of the marginalized and those resentful of other state actions in the initial phase of their ideological campaign. Once in control, they tax the poor, destroy school buildings and stop girls from going to schools. Most of those who have been killed due to militant attacks are women, peasants and the poor. […]

May 4th, 2009|Personal|7 Comments