Rahim focuses on global issues in and out of class
By Karin Dienst
Princeton NJ -- Calculus was Taufiq Rahim's top subject in high school, but upon arrival at Princeton he quickly branched out into new areas. In particular, he has been focusing on international affairs and on working to deepen campus dialogue about political and social issues.
Currently, he is delving into his junior paper, which will come out of a Wilson School task force on refugees. He is working closely with Rick Barton, a visiting lecturer from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and a former deputy United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
"I'm studying the 28-year-old refugee crisis in Algeria of the Sahrawis," he said. "I want to provide a new approach to break out of the intractability of that situation. Basically what it comes down to is whether to provide the Sahrawis with an independent Western Sahara or an autonomous Western Sahara within Morocco, or perhaps something in between."
Learning about the Sahrawis adds to Rahim's knowledge about refugee issues of Afghanistan and Palestine. The subject is pertinent on a personal level as well; his father and nine other family members, who are of Indian descent, were forcefully expatriated from Uganda under the despotic rule of Idi Amin in 1972, arriving in Canada, Kenya and England as refugees. Rahim's mother is from Pakistan.
"I'm not sure what my identity is," he said. "But it's nice to have a diverse background. As a Muslim I was fasting in December during Ramadan, and at home we sometimes have East African music and food."
Questions of identity are fundamental to many of the activities in which Rahim engages at Princeton. During his freshman year, one of his roommates, who is African American, went regularly to the Third World Center (since this fall renamed the Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding), and he asked Rahim to join him. Before long Rahim was political chair, involved with race relations and off-campus concerns. As a sophomore, he became chair of the center's governance board and helped bring about the name change.
"One of the things that (originally) turned me away from the Third World Center was its name," he said. "I wrote an article about it in The Prince and we had a forum and eventually the name was changed." While Rahim believes that the new name better describes the center, he admits that "a lot of people are still confused about its purpose." To combat this confusion, he is helping the center promote itself through various activities, such as a social, a recent community dinner with Professor Cornel West and a speakers program.
This past fall, Rahim joined with fellow students to form the Global Issues Forum, which seeks to broaden the understanding of global affairs on campus. "My motivation was to increase dialogue, awareness and the understanding of current events," he said. "I noticed that a lot of people weren't that engaged with (these) pertinent issues."
Already, the forum has organized a faculty panel on Iraq, a visit by Scott Ritter, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, and a presentation about North Korea. The Global Issues Forum also holds a biweekly dinner discussion in a seminar room in Robertson Hall for up to 25 students.
Rahim is also a driving force behind the Princeton Peace Process, which he formed with other students, many of whom are Jewish, to create a dialogue about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. "We want to build bridges," he said. "We're trying to develop a peace proposal, but since we're not directly involved in the conflict, that is perhaps a bit arrogant." He is also involved with the Princeton Committee on Palestine, which is mostly made up of graduate students.
Rahim writes about the issues that interest him in a biweekly column for The Daily Princetonian and for the Idealistic Nation, put out by the College Democrats. "I like stirring up the pot and expressing myself," he said. "But I do the necessary research first."
As an international student from Canada, Rahim said he has had little difficulty adjusting to life on an American campus. Before his freshman year, he opted for Outdoor Action instead of the pre-orientation available to international students. But he is aware of the challenges international students sometimes face, and emphasizes establishing a strong academic footing.
"Coming from a different academic curriculum can be difficult," he said. "It's a good idea for international students to find people in their academic fields who can give advice, and to not be afraid to ask for help. It's also important to participate socially. Whenever international students get involved, others benefit."
Along with other international students, Rahim sees room for expansion in Princeton's course offerings. "As someone with a South Asian background, I would like a course on Hindi or Kashmir," he said. "Finally this year there is a course on India and Pakistan."
After graduation, Rahim expects to attend graduate school, with a possible goal of working in the United Nations on conflict resolution. He is especially keen to learn more languages; currently he's studying Arabic. "After I graduate, I want to travel to a French-speaking place and an Arabic-speaking place, and I also want to spend some time in India or Pakistan," he said. "But this summer I hope to go to Syria to work for a development organization." Last summer he worked at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
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Editor: Ruth Stevens
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Contributing writers: Karin Dienst, Eric Quinones, Evelyn Tu
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