Ijaz trades Wall Street for diplomacy
Photo by Stephanie Gross.
Four years before the attacks of Sept. 11, Mansoor Ijaz warned the Clinton administration about Osama Bin Laden.
It was a lost opportunity.
Although Ijaz had been involved in other high-profile feats, it was this incident that propelled the hedge fund manager turned self-styled peacemaker into an international newsmaker.
That year, Ijaz (Physics ’83) tried to convince the Clinton administration to study information on terrorism from the Sudanese government. It was a prime time for the United States to start dismantling groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas. It was too late.
“The great failure of American foreign policy has always been what we do the day after, not the day of or the day before. This is purely a function of our threat perception,” he said from London.
In 2000 Ijaz’s skills as a diplomat of sorts helped negotiate a tenuous peace between Kashmiri separatists and the Indian government. The explosive region, over which both Pakistan and India fight, experienced peace for 18 months.
For these two completely incompatible adversaries to trust an American Muslim who had no stake in the effort to define a peace was a miracle in itself, he said.
Last year, Ijaz helped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl become connected with sources in Pakistan. He said he couldn’t have imagined the reporter’s fate. It was an experience he described as horrifying.
“The story he was working on was of vital importance to U.S. interests in dismantling sleeper cells here at home, and perhaps he just got too close to the truth,” Ijaz said.
How Ijaz became involved in these endeavors is an interesting story. He studied physics at the University and went on to receive his advanced degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied under a fellowship grant from the joint Harvard Medical School-MIT Medical Engineering Medical Physics program. He was on track to earn oodles of money as a hedge fund manager but realized he could do something more.
One of his favorite quotes is from “Wall Street,” the Oliver Stone movie that illuminated the excess and gluttony of the 1980s: “How many yachts can you water ski behind? When is it enough?”
The death of his father in 1992 changed Ijaz’s life. On his deathbed, the former Virginia Tech professor told his son to use his American freedoms to challenge the corrupt leaders in his homeland, Pakistan.
“To essentially become a voice of accountability and change from afar to raise up the disaffected people of the Islamic world,” he said. There aren’t too many people, on the American end of things, to speak up for the Muslim community. Ijaz became one of them.
Through op-ed articles in national newspapers and through his current role as a foreign affairs analyst at FOX News, Ijaz reaches out to Americans to help them understand what is going on in the world. He tries to pound home the idea that Islam does not equate with terrorism.
“Extremism, whether Muslim or otherwise, has its roots in the anarchy and chaos of societies that suppress their peoples to such an extent that the visceral anti-reaction spreads like a virus,” he said.
His work as a national-level diplomat of sorts consumes his life, even if it’s not his day job. He describes relaxation as “a luxury I do not have.”
“We face perhaps the gravest threat in the history of mankind, with the spread of terror’s global movement. It is propagating a virus that cannot be felt, seen or heard until it’s too late,” he said. “The motivation is simple. God gave me an understanding of those who seek to destroy us and our way of life, and a few tools to deal with them. He gave me a platform from which to execute my plans, and I cannot rest a second until that work is completed.”
Another quote from “Wall Street”: “Lunch? Lunch is for wimps.”