Raza Rumi, a journalist and Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College, explained the roots of extremism in Pakistan and described the efforts to deter radicalism in a lecture last week.
“The country has in the last decade or so suffered huge losses,” Rumi said. “Between 50 and 80 thousand Pakistanis have died in pure acts of violence and terrorism across the country.”
Rumi, a Pakistani himself, said these deaths include those of civilians and members of the military. Rumi said there have been attacks in airports and headquarters of intelligence agencies and blamed these losses the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government has been involved in an operation called Zarb-e-Azb, which targets militant hideouts in Northwest Pakistan, he said.
“It includes bombing places, arrests and other methods to ‘neutralise’ terrorists,” Rumi said.
The bombing of a Pakistani school last year, which killed over 140 people, indicates the presence of a violent ideology directed targeting civilians, according to Rumi. He tied such acts of domestic terror with the recent terrorist attack in Brussels that took place in an airport and the subway.
“These things are linked, because the issue is that there is an ideological battle going on,” Rumi said. “It has been claimed as a battle of Islam or Muslims versus the rest of the world, or between Muslims and Western countries, but in reality, it is more a conflict within Muslims themselves.”
He stressed that the majority of Muslims do not subscribe to acts and ideologies of terror, but aded these displays of violence are usually carried out for political motives.
“The vast majority of Muslims overwhelmingly do not subscribe to acts of terrorism or violent history,” Rumi said. “Yet there are groups or organized groups that carry out acts of violence that are largely political in nature.”
Rumi said he was the victim of a terrorist attack carried out by the Pakistani Taliban two years ago, when he was working as a TV broadcaster in Pakistan and professed an anti-extremist ideology.
“A gunman fired at my car in a dark corner of a road, in which my companion who driving the car died instantly,” Rumi said. “I had a guard who was injured, and I was back at of the car, so I ducked and laid down on the floor of the car.”
After the attack, he said he spent some time in Pakistan, and then decided to come to the United States.
“I felt very insecure and traumatized, and my sisters live here in the United States, so I thought this would be a time to take a break from Pakistan and be safe,” Rumi said.
Rumi emphasized his belief that the Pakistani government is working to combat terrorism, explaining that in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan is cleaning up the tribal areas near Afghanistan that contain a large population of extremists. Over 3,400 militants have been killed in this operation, which has also enabled the government to create codes that expedite the trials of extremists, according to Rumi.
“I have many reservations against military courts because there are chances of human rights violation, where you deny due process,” Rumi warned of this system.
Rumi said that examing and challenging Pakistan’s institutions could promote a more peaceful future for the country.
“Pakistan is going to have to deepen its democratic institutions, strengthen media and civil society, it will have to create space for its minority groups,” Rumi said, “And it will have to develop a secular model of government and constitution.”
Rumi said that 70 percent of Pakistanis are under the age of 30, adding that Pakistani youth groups are working to end extremism within this age group.
Artemis Tapliga ’18, Director of Academic Events in CIAS, noted that Cornell has active Muslim communities and Pakistani groups. She expressed her hope that progress can be made so that more people are aware of what is happening in the Pakistani region.
“The biggest role we can have, even as non-Pakistani people, is to talk about it,” Tapliga said. “It is far away, but it is also affecting people that are really not that different from us. Maybe they practice a different religion, maybe they have different customs, but at the end of the day, they’re human beings just like us.”