April 28th, 2014

The Friday Times

Mohammad Shahzad

The attack on Raza Rumi raises important questions about free speech and tolerance in Pakistan


Columnist, anchor and author Raza Rumi escaped a terrifying assassination attempt last month in Lahore. His car was sprayed with bullets by six assailants. His driver was killed and his guard was seriously injured. Raza remained unscathed miraculously. His killers thought that they had achieved their objective but Raza was showed presence of mind by ducking at the sound of first bullet.

A thoroughly professional journalist has many unknown enemies. Journalists are harassed and thrashed by various mafias that rule Pakistan and it is a common practice. But an assassination attempt is made only when a journalist’s work has seriously risked their vested interests. Journalists have been allegedly killed by the intelligence agencies, crime mafias and religious bigots.

I regularly follow Rumi’s work and can bet on this that he can never hurt anybody’s sentiments. He is neutral, does not dig for scoops to blackmail others – a practice very common now a days among bogus journalists, does not do so-called investigative journalism to expose corruption (to invite attention and seek favours to remain ‘quiet’), and is always civilized and decent in phrasing his opinion.

Raza is extremely humble – which is highly unlike Pakistani journalists. He holds two degrees from the London School of Economics, UK and has worked across the globe before entering journalism but never boasts about it. People abuse him on social media but he never pays them back in the same coin. On TV channels, he talks about sensitive issues and gives a balanced commentary that is bold yet polite in tone.

Raza has no family enmity with anyone. He hails from a highly educated, literary and sophisticated background. His father retired as a chief justice of Pakistan. His mother Bilquis Riaz is a renowned writer and journalist.

In this backdrop, I fail to understand who can be after the life of an absolutely harmless and innocuous person like Raza Rumi.

Although Raza has survived the assassination attempt, the attack has shaken him. It would shake anyone. I lamented the mentality of our people when I saw a few posts on social media that said Raza had staged a fake assassination drama to seek publicity. Such ignorant people don’t know that he left a very attractive job with the Asian Development Bank in Manila and returned to Pakistan to look after his elderly parents. He was drawing a salary that most of us can only imagine in dreams. Writing is his passion and he explored a late career in it. There are only a few highly educated journalists in Pakistan and Raza is one of them. Prior to his stint at ADB he was a civil servant and topped the CSS examination in 1994 – a rare honour confirming his stellar credentials. Pakistan it seems has little or no space for brains like him.

Raza is not a professed  Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi, Salafi or Ahmadi. He is not on the payroll of any intelligence agency. And yet a brazen attempt was made to assassinate him. He is secular by temperament and is brave enough to speak that secularism has been misinterpreted by the religious fundamentalists in Pakistan. His crime is that he wants peace, tolerance and co-existence among the various sects in the society for which he has been punished with a gun attack.

That shows that the tolerance level in Pakistani has dropped to such a level that you are an apostate or a Shia or an Ahmadi if you don’t support religious, sectarian and jihadi outfits, and thus you must be killed to keep the glory of Islam intact.

Raza has become careful after the attack. He is not doing his TV program. He is not tweeting much. Some friends tweeted urging Raza to speak again. My advice to Raza is that wise enemies are better than foolish friends. The prayers of his parents have saved him. But it does not mean no damage was caused. A tremendous damage has been caused. His poor driver, a member of his family lost his life.

From now on, Raza, his family, friends and true well-wishers will always be worried about his safety. The state or the government can’t protect him. It is trying to appease the ‘angry brothers’ in the TTP who have killed more than 50,000 innocent Pakistanis and 7,000 soldiers including a lieutenant general, a major general, several brigadiers and countless commissioned officers. It does not care about Raza Rumi.


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