by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMi Commentary on FEBRUARY 18, 2016:
In November I had a chance to sit down with policy analyst, journalist, and scholar Raza Rumi at the ISLAMiCommentary office of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and speak to him about countering violent extremism in the Middle East and in Pakistan, and the plight of journalists in his native Pakistan.
Rumi was at Duke to lead a conversation on “Countering Violent Extremism: The Case of Pakistan.” He had been invited by the Duke Pakistani Students’ Association and his visit was co-sponsored by the Sanford School of Public Policy, the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, and the Duke Alexander Hamilton Society.
Rumi has been living in the U.S. since shortly after a March 2014 assassination attempt on his life that left his driver dead and guard seriously injured. While escaping with minor injuries, he said that after his car was ambushed he felt “insecure” and “traumatized,” and had to leave Pakistan after a few weeks. State agencies and local police, he said, couldn’t promise it wouldn’t happen again. (Police later reportedly implicated members of the Taliban-affiliate Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the attack)
Rumi had been a broadcast TV commentator in Pakistan since 2010, but rose to prominence in when he began hosting current affairs shows, including at Pakistan’s Capital TV then Express News. He was on his way home from the station when his car was attacked. (Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of journalists being killed in Pakistan as a direct result of their work.)
He said he was targeted for being an “apostate” or “blasphemer.”
“I am used to saying what I believe in which is rational to me and where I don’t know how to mince words especially against extremist ideologies,” he said.
In Pakistan’s battle against terrorists, including the Pakistani Taleban, Rumi said the state has taken “a very militaristic approach.”
But he cautioned that that was only one part of the battle: “The other part is to give all citizens equal rights in conflict zones and undertake development and create a more inclusive society for them which restores their faith in the Pakistani state and which allows them the chance of carrying out a normal life.”
Rumi also described how outside influence has aided in the proliferation of extremist seminaries and violent militias in Pakistan, including support and training of mujahedeen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in the ‘80s, or Saudi Arabia’s ongoing investments in Islamic seminaries (madrasas).
On state building — whether in Pakistan, Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan — he said that history has shown that outsiders cannot really accomplish this.
“It is the organic groups and the political groups within those countries who have to build and rebuild their state and rebuild institutions of governance with least possible interference from the outside world,” he said.
The ideological battle against violent extremism in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East, he said, must also be waged by the moderate Muslim clerics and intelligentsia, who “have to come up and say this is wrong, this is a misapplication, a misunderstanding, and total abuse of Islamic history.”
As to the question of whether the U.S. policy of engaging with moderate Muslims or moderate Muslim clerics was a useful exercise in combatting violent extremism, Rumi said there is “instrinsic worth in it” but that the US “can’t really do much.”
“As events in Iraq, and Afghanistan and elsewhere have proved. It is those societies, the Muslims themselves that have to do something about it,” he said, noting that the vast majority of Muslims in the world do not support extremist groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and the Taleban. “The ordinary Muslims are like ordinary people anywhere, they want security, they want jobs, a better education for their kids, they want food, they want prospects.”