Niloufer Siddiqui ’05 on the Political Purposes of Violence

The Haverford English alum, now political science professor at the University of Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, returns to campus (virtually) to share her research.

Recently lauded as “represent[ing] the future of the academy” as one of the “emerging scholars” by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Niloufer Siddiqui ’05 returns to Haverford as the next Young Academic Alumni Lectures Series lecturer this Wednesday via Zoom to talk about her recent research. 

Siddiqui, a tenure-track assistant professor of political science at University of Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, studies political violence, political behavior, the politics of religion and ethnicity, and the politics of South Asia. Her current book manuscript, which she will discuss in the library’s next talk in its ongoing Young Academic Alumni Lecture Series, focuses on Pakistan and how and why its politicians utilize violence (either directly or indirectly) for political gain. This work may focus on Pakistan, but Siddiqui finds its applications to be universal. “We see political party violence in countries with established democracies, like India, but also struggling democracies or hybrid democracies, like Pakistan,” she said, “So it’s a fairly widespread phenomenon and I wanted to address this question.”

At Haverford, Siddiqui only minored in political science, majoring, instead, in English, which fostered her interest in learning through a social and political lens. “Literature tackles many of the same social and political … problems that nonfiction does, so I think of them as complimentary,” she said. 

Siddiqui’s growing interest in politics and activism manifested both in and out of the classroom at Haverford. Ahead of her sophomore year, Siddiqui received Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) funding to go to Pakistan over the summer to work on women’s rights. “[It] was a really important part of my entry into research on Pakistan,” she said. In the classroom, she admired Associate Professor of Political Science Susanna Wing’s research on women in Sub-Saharan Africa and the methodologies she used.

Her interest in English at Haverford began with a first-year writing class with Professor Kimberly Benston. It was nurtured in other classes, such as Theresa Tensuan’s class on literature by women and people of color. Though at the time she had no plans for a life in academia, wise words from her English professor at graduation proved to be inspiring and true. “I remember very clearly on graduation day, [Professor Benston] told my parents that he saw me pursuing a Ph.D,” she remembered. “At that point I had no plans of even coming close to being an academic, it just wasn’t something I had considered … So it is funny that I did end up going back to do a Ph.D. and I’m now an academic … He was right!”

After graduating, Siddiqui worked as a paralegal in a corporate law firm in New York City, and ended up working on pro bono political asylum cases. Siddiqui then left the corporate law firm to work as a paralegal at the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights department. Siddiqui considered law school but decided against it. “What interested me was not the legal aspect but rather the social and political underpinnings of some of the issues that were coming to the forefront.”

She then went to Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and earned a M.A. in international relations, where she refined her focus on South Asia, specifically Pakistan. After earning her M.A., she returned to Pakistan and worked with the United Nations and International Crisis Group and the International Organization for Migration in Islamabad. “I really just missed academia and a lot of the stuff I wanted to do involved writing and research and so I returned to the U.S. for my Ph.D.” she said. After Siddiqui’s work in Pakistan, she earned her Ph.D. in political science at Yale.

But in many ways that journey kicked off at Haverford. “In a lot of ways, being at Haverford was a defining moment for me,” she said. “The academics I found were very rigorous at the time. I learned … to be a better writer, but also to be a smarter thinker. I think it really pushed the envelope and forced me to challenge my assumptions on all sorts of things.”

Niloufer Siddiqui will give a talk, “Under the Gun: Political Parties and Violence in Pakistan,” via Zoom on Feb. 9 at 4:15 p.m.