After the office of his newspaper, The Frontier Post, in
Pakistan was burnt down by a group of Islamic extremists in 2001,
Javed Nazir faced possible imprisonment or death.
The arsonists were instigated by a letter titled “Why
Muslims Hate Jews” that was published in the editorial
section of the English-language newspaper in Pakistan. Hoping to
incite discussion, the editor who ran the piece left in references
that denounced Islam. Instead, the volatile language incited a
violent mob, Nazir said.
Although Nazir claimed no part in publishing the letter, in the
eyes of the Pakistani citizens and the government, he shared
responsibility with the five other journalists who worked for the
newspaper. Fortunately for Nazir, he escaped just in time, he said.
The man who made the decision to publish the article is currently
serving a lifetime prison sentence in Pakistan.
Nazir’s firsthand experience with civil injustices
contributed to his selection as the University’s first Fellow
of Human Rights. His position lasts from fall semester of 2004
through the winter semester of 2005.
This appointment is part of an initiative to make education
about human rights more accessible to University students. Both the
International Institute and the Institute for Humanities are
collaborating to create a new program, the International
Perspectives on Human Rights, which will consolidate their
resources to further education and research involving human
Sioban Harlow, associate director of the International Institute
and a public health professor, said the new program will serve an
important role on campus. “Increasing the information about
human rights will stimulate an intellectual dialogue around
campus,” Harlow said.
Part of Nazir’s role as a human rights fellow entails him
to teach a class. This term he is teaching “Human Rights and
Democracy” through the Residential College — a class
that draws from his own experience dealing with human rights, such
as his experiences in Pakistan, which he attributes to cultural
sensitivity to dissent from Islam.
“Media (in Pakistan) is fairly independent now. Even then
you could write freely except about taboo subjects. One cannot be
critical of religion (Islam) and/or the army,” he said.
LSA sophomore Josh Cleveland, a member of Nazir’s class,
said, “Javed includes much of his own experiences in his
lectures, and I find great inspiration from an individual who
continues to prove that we can change the state of the world. Many
people feel that they cannot have an impact on the current
tumultuous state of human rights. He proves them wrong every
Not only does the IPHR reach out to students, it also seeks to
help those outside the scope of the University. In order to achieve
this, Juliet Feibel, program associate of the International
Institute, is seeking applications for human rights consultants who
possess foreign language skills or previous experience in the
A list of the consultant’s names would be readily
accessible through IPHR’s website for anybody who needed
their skills. Feibel said, “The consultants are not so much a
resource for student and faculty, but a way students and faculty
can become resources for the international community.”
Fiebel described a potential scenario that a consultant would be
needed to illuminate their role. For instance, if a human rights
organization contained a document written in Vietnamese even though
nobody within this organization possessed the ability to interpret
Vietnamese. The eventual plan is that by searching IPHR’s
website, one could find someone who not only contains experience in
the field of human rights but also can translate Vietnamese.
The IPHR website also offers a comprehensive list of many
classes on campus that touch upon human rights. Nazir’s
course remains unique; however, since it was designed specifically
with human rights in mind.
According to Feibel, this may change. One of the main goals
currently is to increase the curriculum offering for human rights
courses so that the nascent program can be classified in the same
category as longer-running programs at University of
California-Berkley, Columbia University, Yale University and the
University of Notre Dame.
“We’re hoping to see more undergraduate curriculum
specifically designed to give a firm foundation on the history,
practice and complexities of human rights,” Feibel said.
Nazir will be lecturing next semester on a course focusing on
media and enthno-religious conflict. Even though the potential of
his case being reopened exists, Nazir expresses interest in
returning to Pakistan after two years. “I love this country,
but I do not know that I want to make it my home.”