Pakistani author-journalist Raza Ahmad Rumi recently visited San Francisco Bay Area as part of his book tour to promote his latest book "Being Pakistani: Society, Culture and The Arts". Raza had three speaking engagements in the Bay Area: (1) At the World Affairs Council in San Francisco on Wednesday November 14, 2018, (2) Institute of South Asia Studies at University of California at Berkeley on Thursday November 15, 2018, and (3) Pakistani-American Community Center in Silicon Valley, CA on Friday November 16, 2018.
The Silicon Valley event with Raza Rumi was organized by Talk4Pak.com, a media platform to connect Pakistani-Americans with Pakistan, at the Pakistani-American Community Center (PACC) in Milpitas, CA.
Raza was introduced by Riaz Haq at the PACC. Raza is a alumnus of London School of Economics. He has passed Pakistan Civil Service exam and served in senior positions in Pakistan government. He has also worked as a consultant at the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB). He is currently the editor of Lahore-based Daily Times. He lives in Ithaca, New York and teaches at Cornell University. His books include Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller, The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition and Identity and Faith and Conflict. His most recent collection of essays Being Pakistani: Society, Culture and The Arts was published in 2018 by Harper Collins.
In his presentation at the PACC, Raza Rumi challenged the prevailing one-dimensional narrative of Pakistan that wrongly focuses on extremism and terrorism. He acknowledged that Pakistan does have a serious problem of extremism and terrorism. But these problems also exist elsewhere, including in America where we have seen the rise of white supremacists' violence in recent years. He said part of his motivation in writing Being Pakistani is to highlight Pakistan's other dimensions including, for example, its ancient civilization that is thousands of years old as well its long Sufi traditions of tolerance and inclusiveness.
He mentioned the great ancient cities of Mehrgarh in Balochistan, Moenjodaro in Sindh and Harappa in Punjab. Raza emphasized in the areas that now make up Pakistan as a great center of learning with Taxila University, believed to be the world's first university, located close to the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad. He also mentioned Gandhara Civilization where Buddhism flourished in what is now Khyber PakhtunKhwa (KPK) province of Pakistan. Rumi sees Pakistanis as inheritors of these great civilizations.
Rumi talked of the poetry of Bulleh Shah and the work of miniaturist artist Shazia Sikander whose art is displayed at top museums across America and the wildly popular Coke Studio that offers a beautiful fusion of the traditional and the modern poetry and music. Raza said that it was "ironically" during General Musharraf's regime that the deregulation of media, telecom revolution and proliferation of news and entertainment channels allowed Pakistani arts and culture to flourish.
Rumi said that there are threats to mass media and free expression but there is also pushback by many who wish to preserve freedom. He said that Pakistan's progress is not linear but it is definitely making progress toward a democratic middle-class nation. There is a growing middle class in Pakistan and the country recently saw peaceful elections and power transfer for the third time in the last decade. The process is far from perfect but the overall trends are positive.
Here's a video recording of the event: