News and Views from New York
Muslim Americans Must Learn to Strategize and Move Forward: Saleem Rizvi
By Syed S. Hussain

Amongst the South Asian community of Tri-state area Saleem Rizvi is a well-known name: a leading lawyer and also a civil rights activist. He is highly regarded both for his professional as well as community services.
Mr. Rizvi is a graduate of Columbia Law School with an LLM (Master of Laws) degree and has been practicing law since 1990. He is deeply involved in community affairs, organizes lectures, writes columns on law and also appears on a highly popular TV program. In recognition of his community services he has received a Congressional award.
Recently I sat down with him in his downtown Manhattan office to discuss the current situations both here and in Pakistan.
S.S.H: What do you think of the current immigration situation in US?
SALEEM RIZVI: Our current immigration system is badly broken and there is an urgent need to fix it.
S.S.H: How can it be fixed?
SALEEM RIZVI: Our leadership in Washington must get ready for comprehensive reforms instead of an “enforcement only” approach as advocated by certain law makers. Only such reforms can end the suffering of twelve million undocumented humans and in the process shut down smuggling operations and the black market for fake documents.
S.S.H: Is there any move for immigration reform?

Saleem Rizvi

SALEEM RIZVI: At the moment, there are two major bills pending in Congress relating to our immigration system. Both offer dramatically different approaches to any future reform. The bill introduced by Senator John McCain and Edward Kennedy, and Representative Jim Kolbe, Jeff Flake and Luis Gutierrez, represents a step in the right direction. This bill is called “The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005”. I urge the readers to support this bill by contacting their representatives. On the other hand, the bill called “The Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act”, introduced by Senator John Cornyn and Jon Kyl, fails to address the challenges we all face in our effort to reform the system.
S.S.H: In view of the present situation, how do you see the future of Muslim immigrants in the US?
SALEEM RIZVI: I think it is important to make a distinction between what this country stands for and how certain policies of any given US administration may have affected us. I strongly believe that this country provides us an open, free, and fertile landscape for a wide array of political, economic, social, cultural, and religious activities.
I am very hopeful about our future as a community. I see Muslims who are committed to progressive social stances and who seek to expand the range of spiritual, social, intellectual choices and do not shy away from challenging narrow interpretations of religious traditions. We must take pride in our achievements and participate in every possible field that might interest us to make this country a better place to live for all.
It is also crucial to learn from the experiences of other communities. The lessons learnt from Black history should serve as a reference point. It is an empowering history. Even in the face of fierce opposition and outright hostilities we must learn how to strategize and move forward. My hopes lie with our younger generation.
S.S.H: Let us turn to Pakistan. Are you satisfied with the democratic process in Pakistan?
SALEEM RIZVI: Ever since its creation, unconstitutional interventions in the political process have prevented the Pakistani society from becoming politically mature and at the same time, damaged its standing in the world. Pakistan has great potentials to turn itself into a democratic nation. The only way we can build Jinnah’s Pakistan would be to establish a democratic, pluralistic, egalitarian and forward-looking society, a society that is capable of playing its responsible role in this global village.
S.S.H: Are you worried about the present security challenges, especially in Baluchistan and the tribal areas of NWFP?
SALEEM RIZVI: Let’s take Baluchistan first. The root cause of this unfortunate conflict lies in the political and socio-cultural arena. Any effort to address this as a security only issue could be disastrous for Pakistan. All parties involved and affected, must think outside the box and work for paving the way for a long-term political engagement.
As regards the tribal areas the Pakistani military operations have come under considerable criticism for serious human rights abuses under the tribal collective punishment. The Taliban supporters also are engaged in violent attacks on civilians. As a human rights activist I am deeply concerned.
S.S.H: What about Pak-US relations? Are they just about the war on terror?
SALEEM RIZVI: The present day engagement between the two countries is the direct result of Pakistan’s willingness to lend its hand to the US in the war on terrorism. Pakistan has gained a special status, commonly referred to as a vital ally, in the US-led global war on terrorism. But what is this war on terrorism and how and when it would end? Without any clear definition even the noblest objectives tend to lose their appeal.
I strongly feel that the Bush Administration strategically failed to work with the rest of the world on this issue. So it is not surprising to see that in Pakistan, there is a great deal of resentment against its role in this war on terrorism.
Gen Zia ul Haq’s engagement against the Soviets in Afghanistan saw a great deal of bitterness in Pakistan as the US “abandoned” Islamabad. The public strongly feels that the country is still paying the price for that war. Therefore, its resentment towards Pakistan’s role in this war on terrorism can be understood. The only way we can move beyond this point would be by getting engaged in all major areas of common interest.
S.S.H: It is often said that Pakistani Americans are not very visible. Do you agree?
SALEEM RIZVI: The Pakistani-American community in the US is still at its very early stage. Even in this infancy period, the community is quite visible and growing. Our confidence as a community has somewhat shattered after 9/11. Pakistani Americans are rightly worried about the stereotype that they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. A huge number had to go through the humiliating experience of the registration process. Hundreds were arrested and deported. Even in the most difficult circumstances, the community is still moving forward. The Pakistani-American community consists of skilled workers and professionals and has a great deal to offer to this mosaic of communities
S.S.H: You are already greatly involved in community affairs.Do you have any plans to step into the political landscape as well?
SALEEM RIZVI: Although many people have attempted to push me towards the political arena, I personally believe that I could be more productive elsewhere. At the moment I am quite occupied with a number of projects. I am working on a legal documentary relating to a host of experiences of Muslim Americans, particularly South Asian Americans in the post-9/11 environment. Another project, which has been very close to my heart, is the legal and judicial reforms in Pakistan. I am in the process of putting a team of lawyers and academics across the globe together to see if we can come up with some basic framework to reform the system in Pakistan. For me, it is pay back time to my native country, Pakistan. - E-mail:



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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