News and Views from
Muslim Americans Must Learn to Strategize and Move Forward:
By Syed S. Hussain
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
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?
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
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
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
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: SyedHussainNYQ@aol.com