Archive for July, 2011

Waseem Umer Getting a second life – the victim of June 13, 2011 suicide bombing speaks.

July 18, 2011

Getting a second life – the victim of June 13, 2011 suicide bombing speaks.

Monday June 13, 2011 was another day at work, and Waseem Umar went to the bank at about 2:30 pm, for a transaction. Parking his motorbike in front of the bank next door like so many times before, he admired the red colors of its signage. The guard at the door frisked him with a hand held metal detector, and waved him in.

As he sat with the customer service executive, she asked him for the particulars of work, and went to call the staff member who would do the transaction, who then came to attend to Waseem, while the lady went to do some other work.

Suddenly there was a blast – so intense that for a moment he was disoriented, his nose and mouth was filled with a fine dust, he thought his heart had shifted from left to the right side of his chest! The air-conditioning ducts spewed gas, and there was a smell of diesel, acrid and throat burning sensation of explosives.

All round him was a stunned silence, and then everyone in the bank started to run and speak at once. He looked at the mouths of people moving, but no sounds came out. The blast had temporarily deafened him. He looked around and was stunned at the confusion; no one knew what had happened and what to do?

As his hearing returned, he heard a babble of voices, people saying bomber, suicide, amid the ringing in his ears. He did not know what to think, do, or how to act. Shaking his head he saw everyone rush to the door and window, but these were closed. The auto lock mechanism had kicked in place. The bank manager was shouting secure the cash, secure the cash; the staff was busy locking the strong room, while utter confusion prevailed.

As his senses returned he looked at himself, and was relieved to see he was uninjured. He called the office and informed them of his situation and asked someone to come collect him, as he did not know if his motorbike was safe or damaged.

The guard inside and the bank staff opened the door, noise and dust came in, Waseem realized that he had just escaped death by a hairs breadth! He came out and looked about the building. The red signage he had admired a short while back lay broken and tattered all over the ground. Debris, broken glass, twisted metal, an acrid smell, smoke all over; flesh, and blood splashed all over the walls, nauseating feeling.

He walked to his motorbike on wobbly feet, and dusted the dust off the seat, when he saw a few pieces of meat, raw and red – stuck in the handle bar and the seat! Waseem stood frozen, and as if glued to the ground.

He was relieved that at least his motorbike was intact. He dusted and cleaned it, and in the noisy confusion that prevailed all over, he started his motorbike and left the scene.

Reaching the office he was surrounded by the staff and found himself to be a hero, being congratulated for having lived through death. He had no feelings, his thoughts and body was numb. As the news came on on the various media channels, he realized that he was indeed lucky for having lived.

Waseem today, a week later still has nightmares of those ten minutes of his life, ten minutes that made the difference in life and death, thankful for having lived through the bombing, and mindful of the two who died and others who were injured.

Now Waseem is one of the hundreds of Pakistani victims of a bombing, and his heart beats with the others. He now speaks against such incidents, and prays for a Pakistan safe from terrorism.

Waseem works for a private company in Islamabad, he was in a bank next door to the bank where a suicide bomber blew himself up on June 13, 2011. He was lucky to escape unhurt. Waseem talked to Tahir Wadood Malik of the Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network about his experience.
June 20, 2011. 5:30 pm

Reflections on the Summit Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) Dublin, Ireland June 26 – 29, 2011

July 12, 2011

It took SAVE for me to understand the depth of Nelson Mandela’s words “Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundations of one’s spiritual life. Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes.” (Conversations with Myself)

This is what was happening at Dublin, everyone gave unconditionally, honestly and sincerely. We all shared and gave something for the others to cherish and take home – words, gestures, looks, an occasional tear, lots of hugs, and many a silence.

Recurring words during the Summit: exciting, amazing, very good, interactions, incredible, conversations, ideas, opportunities, think/do.

Quote from Google email of June 16, 2011: The Google Ideas team are incredibly excited about welcoming you to our upcoming Summit Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) in Dublin. This is an extraordinary group that we are bringing together from all different backgrounds, countries, languages, experiences, and organizations. We believe in what all of you are doing and in what we can achieve together as a broader cross-cutting community – so much so that we decided to make this the very first Google Ideas initiative. In association with Council on Foreign Relations and Tribeca Film Festival, we are convening this Summit in the spirit of collaboration, teamwork, ideas, and action. Just by being here, we have already achieved what many thought was impossible, and when we depart Dublin, we will shock the world again with what can happen when a diverse group of positive activists seeking to affect change can do when they band together around the common goal of standing against violent extremism. Unquote.

Thank you Google: Let me begin by saying that from the first contact by the team Google Ideas/SAVE, till I got on the plane to return, all the activity was handled with immaculate precision and coordination, courtesy and deference to the cultural and social needs of the participants. The underlying theme for the hosts seemed to be patience. It got rubbed on to the participants too!

Reflections about the summit and some comments.

If I have missed anyone, or anything that we talked about, I apologize for it is an error of omission and not commission, and I would love to be corrected as necessary and will gladly make amends.

The evening of reaching Dublin, we had two events, 1) Welcome for formers and survivors with Jared Cohen in the hotel lobby coffee shop, followed by, 2) Welcome evening for all delegates in the hotel bar and restaurant area.

One of the activities on the evening was the Bio-Cards of the participants with name left blank, which we had to fill in with the name of the person whose bio we thought it was, and drop it in a raffle bin, the person who gave the correct name would win for both, the person whose bio it was and the person who filled the card, a trip to the Tribeca Film Festival 2012.

A while into the evening, as I stood talking to some delegates, I saw a gentleman in the brown “thobe” of the African continent talking to Gill Hicks and Carie Lemack, on the table which I had just left. Shortly thereafter, he came up to me with a smile and introduced himself as Imam Sani Isah and pointing to the bio-card in his hand asked me if I knew this gentleman, I looked at the card and it had my bio on it, I smiled and said so, we hugged, and he asked me to write my name on it so it would be right, he said Gill pointed me out!

The first friendship of the summit was formed for me then. The next day at the Dinner at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham the draw had Imam Sani Isah card come out, and both he and I won the trip to the Tribeca Film Festival!

Some comments / reflections / interesting encounters:

• The team members on Team 12 for coming up with the idea for the documentary; Tony, Allison, Scott, Pastor James, Waseem, Alistair, Sasha, and Chris, for the brainstorming and wonderful ideas to make a workable project of all the thoughts.

• Frank Meeink (USA), Rudy Corpus(USA), Muhammad Manwar Ali (UK), Imam Sani Isah (Nigeria) my co-panelists will be with me in my efforts all the time now.

• Noman Benotman ex-leader of the Libyan Jihadis who was with Bin Ladin & Zawahiri in Afghanistan, is a remarkably soft spoken person, who it is hard to see as a former. We talked of his trips to Pakistan and how he had seen it change over the years.

• Anne-Marie Slaughter (USA) quoted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “The strong man is not one who wrestles his opponent to the ground. The strong man is the one who controls himself when angry,” which Yasmin Mulbocus had quoted in her talk earlier.

• Gary Knell (USA) President and Chief Executive Officer of Sesame Workshop and I had a nice breakfast conversation about the dubbing of Sesame Street into Urdu and broadcasting it on television in Pakistan later this year, and how Big Bird could spread the message of peace. Later in the day we saw a premiere of a clip on bullying that will be telecast to over 30 million kids later this year. Once it is aired here, it could be a good medium to spread peace building skits.

• Arno Michaels (USA) former co-founder of the largest racist skinhead organization on Earth and I had more than one talks, I am proud to have his book “My Life After Hate” inscribed by him for me!

• Sue Hanisch (UK), whose leg was blown off by an IRA bomb at London’s Victoria Station in 1991 and I sat together for dinner at Fallon & Byrne and had nice conversation.

• Susan Cruz (USA) and her two wonderful daughters, apart from talking during the summit, we sat on the same table for dinner on day 2.

• Jo Berry (UK) who I had come to know over the internet / facebook, and I became friends, exchanging lots of ideas and stories, over the two days. Her meeting Pat Magee, the man who placed the bomb that killed her father, and working with him, gave me many moments of thought of what would be my reaction if I were to meet the bomber who killed my wife?

• Robi Damelin (Israel) whose 28 year old son, David, was shot and killed by a sniper while serving in the Israeli Reserve Force in March 2002, is a resolute woman. I found her to be strong, brave, and cheerful, but under all this a survivor who had lost a son.

• Gill (UK), Carie (USA) and Febby (Indonesia), the reunion was most welcome, we had nice chats in-between sessions and caught up with what had been happening in our lives since we last met. Gill wrote a warm note for me on her book ‘One Unknown.”

• Angela King (USA) I found it hard to believe that such a warm, soft spoken person could be a former. We talked of our work, and hope to continue sharing our experiences.

• Rudy Corpus (USA) gave me the United Playaz’s friendship band, with the comment you come to my city and wear this, my whole tem will be looking after your back to keep you safe!

• Maajid Nawaz (UK), now a former member of Hizb ul Tahrir (HT), founding member of HT in Denmark and Pakistan now is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, and Founder of Khudi, Pakistan’s first counter-extremism youth democracy social movement. Though I had very little interaction with him, yet his presence was very much there as he went about the summit.

• Fatima Mullick, The Khudi Team, UK and Pakistan, I hope we can meet up on her next trip to Pakistan and work together for the Khudi effort.

• Khurshid Ahmad Nadeem, Organization for Research and Education, Pakistan, we talked about putting together a program on Television about survivors, terrorism from a new perspective, follow up will be done on this. I have his booklet, “Approaching Conflicts – Muslim Society’s Perspective”

• T J Leyden (USA) was the first to come up to me after the last panel discussion and say “Tahir, I will never change the channel ever again,” I have no reason not to believe him.

• Denver De Zylva, Virtusa, Sri Lanka, working for the rehabilitation of Tamil and other former militants. Has created software that is interactive and integrates latest technology to create a data base that performs multi functions related to the beneficiaries of the resettlement program.

• Aicha al-Wafa (France). I had seen Aicha el-Wafa on TED talks some time back, when I told her this, she was very happy and we had a nice chat (with an interpreter) and had a picture together.

• Usama Hassan, UK, a former, The City Circle UK, we had a few good conversations, and hope to continue our interactions in the future.

• Ed Hussain of the Council on Foreign Relations and I talked a bit about the PakTSN and how we could collaborate to further the cause of the setting up of the network in Pakistan, and collaborating in the future.

• Salim Mohamed Nasir, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, and I had exchanged emails about my article and his using it with his students; we also talked about how he could use more of the stuff on my blog etc. hope to continue.

• Dr. Rony Berger, Brit Olam, Israel. We had a nice conversation and talked about his work a bit. Hope to keep up our interaction.

• S Rajendran (India), had an exchange of ideas over breakfast about his writings, we will follow up on how we may do more about the issue of terrorism.

• Also exchanged ideas with, Marina Cantacuzino, The Forgivness Project UK; Daniyal Noorani, Pakistan; Ginn Fourie, Lyndi Fourie Foundation, South Africa; Dr Edit Schlaffer, Women Without Borders, Austria; Tehseen Ullah Khan, National Research and Development Foundation, Pakistan; Noor Huda Ismail, Institute for International Peace Building, Indonesia; Abdul Rehman Malik, radicalmiddleway, UK; Kamran Bokhari, Stratfor Global Intelligence, Canada; Daniel W. Sutherland, National Counterterrorism Center, USA; James M Lindsey, CFR, USA; L Camille Massey, CFR USA; Antony R Thomas, AntonyThomas Productions, UK; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center USA; Dr Abdul Haq Baker, University of St. Andrews, UK; Bud Welch, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, USA; Ian White, Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, Ireland; Naachum Pechenick, Israel; and Nyimbi Odero, Independent National Election Commission, Nigeria.

• Megan Smith, Google, USA, we talked about Gmail and some ideas I had about the site/ utility.

• Jarred, Yasmin, Errin, Brendon, the Google team, ever present, ever ready, ever so patient with our little (and some not so little) expressions of what we felt at times!

An important lesson for me has been the realization that while I no role in my becoming a survivor – my being a survivor is the result of a violent extremist, somewhere, making a decision the execution of it in a violent extremist act, resulted in the killing of my wife, and I became a survivor of an act of terrorism.

But, to become an extremist may be circumstantial however, going from extremist to former that needs the courage to think, differentiate, decide and act in the face of opposition, often fearing becoming a victim of an act of violent extremism – and then standing by that decision – bravo formers.

And last but not the least, Arno Michales gave my thoughts about Pakistan’s culture of silence such an eloquent expression right at the beginning of his book ‘My life after hate,’ “I have so much to learn in order to heal. I need people to listen to me. I need to listen to them to facilitate such learning, and damn the scabs if tearing them off is part of the healing process.”

God bless, and God speed everyone at the Summit Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), as I said to Jarred, we now need to go from SAVE Dublin :-)to WAVE to the world (Work Against Violent Extremism).

Summit Schedule

Sunday 26 June The evening of reaching Dublin.

17:00 – Welcome for formers and survivors with Jared Cohen in the hotel lobby.
18:00 – Welcome evening for all delegates in the hotel bar and restaurant area.

Monday 27 June

Buffet breakfast nods, hello’s and shake hands. Then we walked to the convention centre – 10 minutes of a very pleasant and comfortable walk. The program for the day was:

• Opening Video
• Welcome: (Jared Cohen, Google Ideas)
• Idea 1: Finding Common Ground Between Different Extremes (Gill Hicks, MAD for Peace; Susan Cruz, Sin Fronteras; T.J. Leyden, Hate2Hope; Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam Foundation; Noor Huda Ismail, Sekurindo Global Consulting)
• Fireside Chat: Why are we doing this? (Carie Lemack, Global Survivors Network and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google)
• Graffiti artists at work in the lobby
• Team sessions 1 – introduction, ideation, discussion
• Personal Story: Joining Young in Brazil (Alan Lima, anti-gang activist)
• Idea 2: Patterns of Radicalization: Common Origins but Different Extremes (Farah Pandith, U.S. State Department; Sammy Rangel, Safe Streets Outreach Program; Angela King, consultant; Imam Nurayn Ashafa)
• Personal Story: Renouncing Violence in Iran (Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, journalist)
• Idea 3: Crossing the Threshold: Justifying and Renouncing Violence (Amanda Lindhout, Global Enrichment Foundation; Moe Muhamad, Generation Islam; Henry Robinson, Families Against Intimidation and Terror; Usama Hasan, Imam and Senior Lecturer, Middlesex University; James Muvel Wuye, Interfah Mediation Centre)
• Personal Story: Radicalization and Reconciliation in South Africa (Ntobeko Peni, Amy Biehl Foundation)
• Idea 4: Fostering De-Radicalization: Countering Risks and Increasing Rewards (Chris Isham, CBS; Paul Carrillo, Southern California Crossroads; Yasmin Mulbocus, MAWAH; Tad Stringham, public speaker)
• Devonte Roque – a bit of magic, really entertaining and non stop clapping.
• Personal Story: Magical Salvation (Devonte Roque, Magicians Without Borders, El Salvador)
• Day’s Closing Remarks (Ed Husain, Council on Foreign Relations)
• Dinner at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham (with draw for the bio-card raffle)

Tuesday June 28

• Welcome back (Jared Cohen, Google Ideas)
• Colombia: Leveraging Formers and Turning the Tide Against Violent Extremism (His Excellency Alvaro Uribe Valez, Former President of Colombia; Vera Grabe, Center for Peace; Ricardo Ramirez, former FARC member; Benildo Tijeras Maldonado; Mark Henderson, documentary maker)
• Mother to Mother: A conversation with Aicha al-Wafa (Aicha el-Wafa, mother of Zacarias Moussaoui; Anne-Marie Slaughter as host), I had seen Aicha el-Wafa on TED talks ( when I told her this, she was very happy and we had a nice chat (with an interpreter between us) and had a picture together.
• Idea 5: Understanding Ideology & identity as part of the radicalization process: (Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton Norman Benotman, Quilliam Foundation; Arno Michaels, Life After Hate; Ben Owens, Detours Monitoring Group)
• Idea 6: Deformed Social Network (Shona Brown, Google; Mubin Shaikh, PhD student; Ruth Rach, teacher; Tim Zaal, Simon Wiesenthal Center; Mario Van Niekerk, GCU Academy)
• Team Session 2 – closing in on ideas –
• Team Session 3 – finalization and preparation of chart for presentation, our team worked on Building Skills – Connecting Youth – Preventing Conflict.
• Graffiti artists at work in the lobby
• Voting on team presentations in lobby
• Sesame Street short video on “bullying and conforming” premiered to the delegates.
• Idea 7: Changing Directions: Countering Violent Extremism with Positive Activism (Jared Cohen, Google Ideas; Frank Meeink, Harmony Through Hockey; Abu Muntasir, JIMA; Imam Sani Isa, Interfaith Mediation Centre; Tahir Wadood Malik, Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network; Rudy Corpuz, United Playaz)
• Closing (James M. Lindsay, Council on Foreign Relations; Jared Cohen, Google Ideas; Ed Husain, Council on Foreign Relations)
• Dinner at Fallon and Byrne [Formers and Survivors only]

Wednesday 29th June [Formers and Survivors only]

• Welcome again, Yasmin Dolatabadi, Google Ideas
• Presentation by Victoria on “the what and why of youtube.”
• Jamie of youtube London about how the staff watches / vet videos.
• Ross of Google, talked of Google Plus. We are still waiting for the invites!
• Summit sessions end
• Closing video:

Free evening to explore Dublin city, an exciting few hours in town, a tram ride after ages, shopping for souvenirs, and looking for halal dinner getting a blank look form the server at McDonald’s, who did not understand Halal or Kosher or Muslim meal. Finally ended up having vegetable pizza, courtesy of two Indian servers at the Papa John joint.

One man’s mission: to counter the lure of Islamist extremists

July 12, 2011

One man’s mission: to counter the lure of Islamist extremists

By Eli Saslow / The Washington Post
Published: July 11. 2011 4:00AM PST

Abdirizak Bihi is an observant Muslim who says it is his responsibility to “save the religion I love from a very small number of extremists.”

Abdirizak Bihi is an observant Muslim who says it is his responsibility to “save the religion I love from a very small number of extremists.”

MINNEAPOLIS — His afternoon meeting was an urgent matter of national security, but Abdirizak Bihi needed to borrow $10 for the gas necessary to get there. The tank in his old truck had sat empty for days, forcing him to ride around town in a dress shirt and tie on a borrowed bicycle. Now he wanted to travel 10 miles, and he wanted to move fast. He walked out of his high-rise apartment building and stopped a friend on the sidewalk to plead for a loan. “I promise it’s for a good cause,” he said. Then Bihi drove off to investigate his community’s latest homegrown terrorist.

condoling a death – general naseem riaz

July 9, 2011

on 7/7/11, i went to condole the passing away of gen naseem riaz, Allah bless his soul (and of bilal riaz) – aamen.

as the first anesthetist to be promoted a general in the pakistan army, his services to the profession are a source of inspiration to the others.

the general passed away two days after being hit by a rashly driven motorcycle. the general hit his head on the sidewalk and was badly injured. he was buried on the 29th of june. i was at Dublin, or would have been there to join the funeral prayers.

it was so ironic that i sat in the same well kept lawn, at about the same place that i sat in almost 19 months back when i condoled bilal’s passing away in the parade lane mosque attack, december 2009, with the general. deja vu, it brought tears to my eyes.

more sad is the fact that i had planned to visit the general this week to ask him to be the patron of the pakistan terrorism survivors network. Allah moves in mysterious ways.

may Allah bless all our loved ones who have passed away and give them a place in jannat ul firdous. aamen

7/7 – 6th Anniversary.

July 4, 2011

i am honored to call gill hicks a friend, in the real sense of the word.
this is her write up in the MAD for Peace page on facebook, for those of you who are either not on facebook or not on the group.


Today is the 3 July 2011. As I wake to look at my emails and my phone messages I smile – each message this morning is from someone who is either a survivor of a horrific experience, someone who has lost a loved one to the effects of terrorism, a former violent extremist or a paramedic! These are mixed with friends who have been in my life for over 20 years.

Today, 6 years ago would have been 4 days before my life changed forever.

Today, 6 years ago I was happily oblivious to another depth, another dimension where so many people live with conflict, with extreme violence, the outcomes of hatred. My life centred around my own concerns, my family, my friends, work, paying my bills, the worry of ensuring that I was making the right choices – choices that would impact on my future.

Today 6 years ago I would have been painting my toe nails ready for the week ahead, blissfully unaware that within days I would not have legs, or feet or toenails to paint.

On July 7, 2005 I didn’t have a choice when a 19 year old detonated the bomb he was carrying – BUT – every moment since I have had choices – and overwhelmingly those choices for every day during the past 6 years has been to find the most effective ways in which to make a positive difference – to devote my life to humanity – to commit my life’s work to doing all that I can to deter anyone from following a path of violent and destructive extremism.

Would I change the past? My answer would always be, without hesitation, YES. For as much as I value and appreciate all the many riches that I have seen and experienced there is a great part of me that just longs to be carefree, both physically and emotionally – standing to have a shower is now only a memory – finding inner dignity when I crawl across the floor is a daily struggle – and the growing understanding that I will not recover, that my legs will never grow back leaves me, at times, in utter despair.


As I approach the 6th anniversary of that day I can sit here and ponder – to look back on all that has been achieved, both personally and with my new professional devotion. I can look back and marvel at a strength that I didn’t know the magnitude of, I can look back and feel appreciation for all the wonderful souls that surround my life, people that I am honoured to call friends. I can look back and feel grateful for all I have been given – most importantly that I am still ‘Gill’ – that my capacity to love has increased, rather than diminished, that my heart is not filled with hatred or bitterness – that for every tear there has been an even bigger smile.

I can reflect – but wonderfully I can also look forward – with anticipation, curiosity and optimism – I can feel as excited as a small child waiting for Christmas, being filled with the thoughts of endless possibility, for the future is unwritten.

Today I have added to my growing list of friends who believe, as I do, that together we can re shape, encourage and build sustainable peace.

Today, 6 years on, I am connected – I am part of a louder voice that is directing another way, a constructive path away from violence.–ex-skinhead-former-islamic-radical-open-summit-against-extremism

On Thursday, 6 years to the day – my thoughts will be for all those who lost their lives, for all those families who have lost their loved one – for all the lives that are changed forever – both in London in 2005 and everywhere where people have, and still, suffer.

To know love is the greatest gift of life.

Summit Against Violent Extremism – Dublin, 26-29 June 2011

July 3, 2011

Dublin has become a watershed of sorts. Meeting the most wonderfully uninhibited people from such diverse and different backgrounds willing to share their stories, even bitter memories with us all, has been exhilaratingly moving, and humbling experience. i cannot share enough – am at a loss where to start from? God bless and God speed in our work laid out for us at Dublin.

Panel Discussion on Activism had me on the panel