raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

Social isolation is nothing new for Pakistan’s transgender community

About a third of the world is experiencing a lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic. My current country of residence, the United States, is in extensive lockdown including my home state of New York, which also happens to be the hardest hit area in America. These are extraordinary circumstances, and it is only during such time that we start taking notice of many things which we may have taken for granted in the past. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the world is currently collectively reflecting upon and reassessing their lives. For example, this crisis has made many realise that ...

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Why Pakistan must ban congregational prayers during the COVID-19 crisis

Many years ago, I read Christina Lamb’s famous but controversial book titled Waiting for Allah: Pakistan’s Struggle for Democracy. Although her book, touched upon various facets of the Pakistani society, it focused on the role of religion. She made two key arguments. First that Pakistan was trapped by the need to adhere to a “true” version of Islam, which impeded its progress. She wrote, “The more the country strives for what its religious scholars see as true Islam, the less equipped it becomes for running a twentieth-century state, and the more it is forced to watch once-lagging competitors such ...

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Lessons Pakistan should learn from America amidst the coronavirus panic buying

A few weeks ago, when the coronavirus was largely affecting mainland China, a friend of mine called me from Pakistan and complained about the sudden shortage of face-masks in Pakistan. He said, “We are a completely uncivilised society with no regard for any ethics or morals. You are lucky that you live in a morally upright nation (America).” At the time, I agreed with his assertion and thought that I could easily compare the two societies since I have spent a considerable amount of time in both the countries. Most of my personal as well as professional life was spent in ...

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Why has the state failed to ensure the release of ‘Zindagi Tamasha’?

A few years ago, India got embroiled in a senseless controversy over the movie Padmaavat. Before even seeing the movie, some hard-line elements had decided that the movie contained “intimate” scenes between the revered Rajput Queen, Padmavati and Allaudin Khilji, a Muslim ruler hated by the right wing Hindu ideologues. According to them, the movie hurt Rajput “honour” as it supposedly desecrated the revered Rajput queen. The film’s director, Sanjay Leela Bansali, who was also physically harassed at the sets of the film, had to clarify several times, including through a YouTube video, that the film praised the Rajputs ...

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PTI and the status quo

Every political party uses slogans to expand its membership and to energise its existing base. Some slogans articulate a party’s vision, some summarise its central narrative, while others highlight the steps the party will take once in power. Slogans are a powerful political marketing tool and can be extremely effective if they are catchy and easy to understand. For example, Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” was extremely successful because it was catchy and effectively articulated Trump’s narrative that America had lost its ‘past glory’ and that he was the right person to restore it. In Pakistan, the ...

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We have failed Junaid Hafeez

Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer accused of blasphemy, has been sentenced to death by a district and sessions court in Multan. While the verdict has left me deeply disturbed, it is, unfortunately, hardly surprising. Why? Because this is something which has become a routine in such cases. It appears that the blasphemy law has essentially rendered the entire legal structure completely helpless. Nothing demonstrates our collective cowardice and moral depravity better than the manner in which the blasphemy law continues to be implemented in Pakistan. My mind goes back to one of the first high profile blasphemy cases in 1993, when three Christians, ...

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Can Pakistan hold India responsible for religious discrimination?

A couple of days ago, the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha (upper house and the Rajya Sabha (lower house) of the Indian Parliament. Due to the discriminatory and exclusionary nature of the act, the Indian government is getting a lot of heat from the international media. Internally also, India has received and continues to receive flak from the liberal sections of the Indian press, Muslims and from populations of the northeastern states of India, who fear that the aforementioned bill will endanger their indigenous culture and languages. Several international humanitarian organisations, such as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Amnesty ...

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Hamza Ali Abbasi: The born again Muslim

A few days ago, actor Hamza Ali Abbasi shared a video on social media to announce his decision to quit show-business and pursue a form of Islamic activism instead. In the viral video, Abbasi narrated his personal journey stating that he went form being an atheist to a devout Muslim. Adopting a ‘philosophical’ tone, he spoke about his early youth and quest for understanding the “existential” questions which occupied his mind. He discussed how he had initially become an atheist because he had been unable to find satisfying answers to those questions at the time, but, later on, an engagement with science ...

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PTI and the confederacy of dunces

I remember watching an interview of Hassan Nisar, an ardent supporter of Imran Khan, in early December 2018, when the PTI government was still in its relative infancy. In the video, Nisar, while lamenting the poor performance of the government, pleaded with the ministers to at least stay quiet on social and electronic media and keep their public profile low. He was visibly irked due to a bevy of irresponsible statements and several other blunders made by a long list of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ministers. A few months later, Mohmmad Hanif, renowned Pakistani novelist and columnist, wrote that the provision of constant entertainment ...

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The infamous ‘char dewari’ failed to protect Karachi’s gang rape victim, now what?

Women and their clothes made for viral news recently when the Haripur District Education Officer (DEO) issued a notification which stated that all schoolgirls must wear burqas since it will ‘protect’ them against harassment and rape. The move left Pakistanis divided, with some vehemently calling out the government, while others blatantly supporting it. Those for the decision, argued that a covered up woman will inculcate ‘decency’ and, for the lack of a better word, ‘tame’ the raging hormones that supposedly, largely remain out of men’s control. An extension of this argument says confining women within the four walls of a house will also protect them from predatory males. Although the notification ...

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