Pakistani Journalist and Blogger Remains in Exile, One Year After Violent Attack

Published in Global Voices

March, 28th 2015
By Annie Zaman

razarumi2

March 28 marks the first anniversary of the attack on Pakistani blogger and prominent political commentator Raza Rumi. Once a contributor to Global Voices, Rumi was added to the Taliban’s hit list after he opposed government peace talks with the militant group in 2014. His moderate views also have been misinterpreted by some as anti-Islamic. When two gunmen opened fire on Rumi’s car at a market in Lahore, his 25-year-old driver and confidant was killed. Rumi departed for the US shortly thereafter, at the urgings of family and friends.

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Don’t blame yourself, Raza

By Josh Shahryar

Dearest Raza,

I was on my way to meet a friend when I got the news. I was frantic. I spent the next few hours refreshing every device I had connected to the internet to make sure you hadn’t personally been hurt in the attack. I then found out you had been, but seeing your injuries were minor, I thought,

 “Thank God”

Not that anyone wants to lose a friend, but you are more than a friend. You are someone I deeply respect and admire for both your candour and your passion.

I thought I knew you well until I read your book, ‘Dehli by Heart’. It should’ve really been titled, ‘How I’m Pained Daily by People Hating Each Other When There’s So Many More Reasons for Loving’, but I get it.

I haven’t called you and I apologise. Although, I’m sure you’ll forgive me as soon as you have time from answering the hundreds of calls you’re getting already. I did send you an email, letting you know you were in my thoughts and prayers, and you have been ever since the assassination attempt on your life.

A screenshot of Raza Rumi after he was attacked on Friday night.

It broke my heart to see you look so guilty. I know the feeling. For someone like you, who’s out to sacrifice himself to save others, it has got to be soul-wrenching to live with the knowledge that another life has been lost because they were between you and the bullets that were meant to pierce your body.

I want you to know that I’m also upset about Mustafa’s death, maybe as much as I am happy that you have survived. O, how selfish we are.

But are we?

Raza, have you read Lasantha Wickramatunga’s last editorial?

I’m sure you know him, who wouldn’t from our part of the world. He was a soul like you. He tried to get Sri Lanka to realise that violence had no place in modern society, that human lives were precious and that his government was butchering its citizens like they were cattle. He knew that as an honest journalist he was a marked man.

I read your op-ed on how you downplayed the death threats against your life. I also know that you knew that the death threats were serious enough. Don’t act brave. Sometimes, it’s okay to be vulnerable.

Getting back to Lasantha, when he was finally gunned down by unknown men who will never be apprehended, his newspaper, The Sunday Leader published a posthumous editorial he had written for such a day. An editorial in which he explains that he knew he’d die some day at the hands of ‘unknown people’ who were all too known and it was purposefully written to be published after he had been killed.

While he mentions many things openly, not once does he say he hesitated. He didn’t take the blame or expresses fear that when he was attacked, others might get killed in the process too, similar to your driver Mustafa, a man whose family now has to live without him. His only crime being that he was with you at the time. I know how heavily it weighs on you, but I want you to stop blaming yourself for this, just as Lasantha refused to take the blame.

Do you remember the story we worked on a year or so ago about some tribesman from Barra who’d been killed by ‘unknown people? You published it in The Friday Times without even asking me about the repercussions it might have for you. I remember you saying, without alluding to the dangers you might face because of it,

“Yes, the tribesmen’s case definitely has to be written about”

Remember when we worked on that story about that young Hazara boy who was killed in Quetta a year or so ago on the fringes of a protest? Liaquat Ali was his name. I can still remember his poor father’s voice cracking.

You took the stories, edited it and published it without saying a word.

Do you realise how politically-charged it was?

I’m sure you do, because once it was out I had several people come and tell me that it must have taken an extraordinary amount of courage for anyone to even think about running that story. You, no doubt, had that courage.

I don’t know if you know that or not, but I’ll tell you why. You published those stories because you felt responsible. You felt responsible for speaking the truth about the daily murders of innocent Pakistanis, murders that were committed by ‘unknown people’ who are entirely too well-known and who must not get away without being exposed. You realised, and I’m sure you know now, that if you hadn’t said anything, no one else would have. That if you hadn’t given a voice to the victims, their cries would go unheard.

Your sense of responsibility was not due to guilt but due to your commitment to telling the truth. And the truth is that you are not responsible for Mustafa’s death, neither is anyone who’s worked with you in exposing such crimes, including myself. The ones responsible for his death are planning to murder as we speak.

Let me clear things up in case you have any illusions – this is their job, murdering innocent people.

The only ones responsible are the ones who pulled the trigger. Don’t for a second think that if you got away, they’ll go home and watch TV. They’ll go out and murder other people; other people with names, lives and families; other people who will only get mentioned in statistics.

They’ll join the 50,000 or so Pakistanis who’ve already been murdered by these ‘unknown people’ or the ‘unknown people’ whose support helps them get away with murder. They’ve in effect turned Pakistan into an open slaughterhouse where they can pick and choose who they’ll kill and when. The only thing standing in front of them is the truth and that will never be told so long as those who can speak it take responsibility for crimes that were committed against them, not by them. Mustafa’s crime wasn’t association with you, it was being a Pakistani.

You don’t need to forgive yourself, Raza. The killers are the ones that need to beg for forgiveness. Someday, after enough sacrifice in the name of truth, maybe they will have to.

This article was published in The Express Tribune Blogs