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The verse of freedom

In a powerful exploration of resistance poetry in indigenous languages, I discovered marginalized poets challenging mainstream Pakistani identity in moving verse.

 PoetsFaiz Ahmad Faiz

Much has been said about the literary and artistic revolution of Pakistan. Undoubtedly Pakistani writers, artists and musicians are now recognised globally for their work which engages with the world and brings forth perspectives which alter the unidimensional image of the country. At home, the new wave of literary and creative output is celebrated each year at the Karachi and Lahore literature festivals which have emerged as major venues for conversation and showcasing of what is being produced in the mainstream.

Away from the spotlight of international media and TV channels, Pakistan’s regional poets and writers are waging a far more perilous battle by engaging with their subaltern, marginalised audiences in the local idiom, thereby putting themselves at risk. The days of Faiz and Jalib are not over as we often moan. Instead they have deepened and regionalised. Our region has had a rich, ongoing folk tradition and it continues in myriad forms and expressions now. In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan poets and artists continue to challenge power and injustice. More so in Pakistan where instability, extremism and uncertainty have impacted people in a profound manner for the past few decades.

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Raza Rumi’s speech on one month of Peshawar School attack – Dupont Circle – Washington


Raza Rumi's speech on one month of Peshawar… by razarumi1

January 16th, 2015|Extremism, terrorism, video|0 Comments

Pakistani Journalists Live Dangerously If They Cross The Line

Listen to the story:

Steve Inskeep talks to Raza Rumi, editor of the Pakistani newspaper Friday Times, about the rise in attacks against journalists. Rumi fled Pakistan after surviving an assassination attempt last month.

TRANSCRIPT:

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A man came by our studios this week who cannot go home. He is known by the name Raza Rumi. He’s a writer and television host in Pakistan – or at least he was until gunmen opened fire on his car. And now he’s staying outside …

RAZA RUMI: I’m taking a break from the very toxic and very violent environment that I was reporting on, writing about, speaking about. I finally became a victim of that. And not just me but my driver, who was with us, was shot dead. You know, and he died in front of me. So, it has been extremely traumatic.

INSKEEP: Raza Rumi ducked when the bullet struck his car. His driver did not. Dozens of journalists have been killed in Pakistan in recent years. Just last weekend, another TV anchor was shot and wounded. Raza Rumi told us what it’s like to speak out in an insecure country. In newspaper columns and on television, he criticized extremists such as Pakistan’s Taliban. On his final TV program, he raised questions about Pakistan’s blasphemy law. That law is used to target Christians and others accused of insulting Islam. In the days before the attack, Raza Rumi says, callers to his show gave him a label that can be a death sentence. They called him a secularist. Were they right?

RUMI: Yes. There were many callers like that who would say that, you know, you are secular, which unfortunately I do not blame them. Because what has happened is that in the decades of Pakistan’s existence, the Islamic scholars and the villages’ parties particularly have integrated the word secular as an atheist or as irreligious or somebody who’s anti-religion. And so that’s the popular perception. Secularism is an abused word. I mean, I’ve actually stopped using it on my TV shows. You know, I would use things like moderation, pluralism, you know, only to appease these bullies. And, you know, now thank God I can say that, you know, I’m a committed secularist. I think that is the only way states ought to be, societies can only function normally if they are secular. Because if they started to become partisan or particularistic, then obviously you have violence and divisions and discord and hatred. And I think that’s just not on because, I mean, here I am a victim of all of that.

INSKEEP: Twenty bullets struck the car, was that correct?

RUMI: Well, yes. The police found 11 shells from the car. But, you know, there were more bullets. And, you know, I don’t have access to the exact investigation report, but, you know, it was over 20 bullets because some were sprayed in the air to first make sure that all passersby ran away, nobody gathered around the car because there was an operation going on.

INSKEEP: Very courteous of them to warn away civilians before they attempted to kill you.

RUMI: Yes, small mercies.

INSKEEP: How dangerous is it to be a journalist in Pakistan right now?

RUMI: It is extremely dangerous if you cross certain lines in Pakistani journalism. And those lines are when you get into direct confrontation with the state authorities or you get into a confrontation with the non-state actors. And non-state actors include both the extremist armed groups but also some sections of gangs affiliated with political parties. But it is extremely dangerous. If you don’t cross those lines, for example, if you ever talk about Christians and (unintelligible) and Shias and bigotry, etc., you’re safe. If you say the Taliban are great. If you feel the fight of al-Qaida against the West is kosher game, you’re safe. But if you cross these lines, you are unsafe.

INSKEEP: As you’re talking, I’m remembering a woman I knew in Pakistan named Perween Rahman. She was not precisely a journalist – she was an activist and a writer – but she revealed facts, she uncovered facts. And once she said to me, roughly speaking, please write what I’m writing so that I’m not the only one writing it. And I think about the fact that not long after that conversation, a few years after that conversation, she was killed. It must be a very lonely moment when you’re a writer and you’ve written something that you know could get you killed and you’re about to hit send – send it out to the world.

RUMI: Yeah. Yes, it’s a lonely moment but it is also cathartic. It is also cathartic because how could you be a conscientious, patriotic citizen of your country and not speak against injustice, not speak against, you know, the daily violation of rights of your fellow citizens. And I love my country, you know. I really think Pakistan has immense potential, you know. Wherever Pakistanis go, they make a mark. But what happens within Pakistan that you know such incidents occur. And I think those are the things I was trying to unpack.

INSKEEP: Can you ever go back?

RUMI: Steve, I would love to go back. That is what I want to do but I don’t think I can immediately go back. But I can perhaps go back and have a hermit’s life in my home, but I would have to go out somewhere and somebody would go with me. And I don’t want another person to be killed because he or she was with me. A 25-year-old guy, head of a household, young, promising, who had his whole life ahead of him died in this confrontation between the extremists and the looney liberal voice. And I can’t kind of forget that, at least for now.

INSKEEP: Raza Rumi is a Pakistani journalist who for the moment is staying in Washington.

Original Post NPR

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Is this Jinnah’s Pakistan?

The massacre of Ahmadis in Lahore has once again exposed the inner fissures of our society. As if treating them like second class citizens was not enough, the attacks on their private space of worship has confirmed that militant Islamism is now an embedded reality

Lahore – a nightmare that is still not over

Updated: my quotes in Tehran Times

Today’s events in Lahore have shaken the entire country. The zealots and the bigots aside, an ordinary Pakistani is baffled at the scale and impunity of the violence. A terrorist has been captured – perhaps more as events unfold. But will they be punished or we will find more lame excuses that the Ahmedis by worshipping in their mosques were provoking the believers.

The Taliban want to eliminate all diversity and pluralism from Pakistan. The process alas started in the 1950s and Bhutto’s tragic actions and Zia years have planted bigotry and intolerance. Fundamentalism is now a cancer that has widely spread in the body politic. Yet, no one wants to tackle it. For the past two years, get Zardari debates have dominated Pakistan’s public discourse punctuated by the anti-Americanism of the Right. […]

May 29th, 2010|Lahore, Pakistan, Politics, terrorism|3 Comments

Brewing storms

 Raza Rumi laments the tragedies of our times, and says that the state cannot be absolved of its responsibility to protect citizens against terrorism   (The Friday Times)

Lahore has finally been encircled by the layers and tremors of violence. If the events of March 2009 were not enough, there is now a concerted effort to create panic in the city. In the past few weeks, girls’ schools have been threatened that they would face the music for educating girls and promoting co-education. How can children and their middle-class urban parents survive these gruelling times? (pic left:Pir Baba’s shrine is now closed to visitors )

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April 21st, 2009|human rights, Published in The Friday Times|4 Comments

Ah, the deal

Much has been made of this NYT article on the class inequalities in NWFP that are fuelling the Taliban movement. However, I would like to ask where in Pakistan class inequalities do NOT exist. They are everywhere. By using this argument then the Taliban takeover becomes a natural conclusion as a social revolution is required everywhere to correct the exploitative structures and provide ‘speedy justice’. Therefore, our political class has to rise to the occasion and provide the kind of leadership, delivery against their manifestos and restore the fading writ of the state. […]

April 18th, 2009|Personal|4 Comments