Saturday, December 27, 2014

On outrage, acceptable and unacceptable loss: My thoughts on the Peshawar Attack

Last week, I was shaken out of my thesis induced stupor by the attack on the army public school in Peshwar by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The horrific nature of this attack, with students and teachers executed in cold blood and the resulting deaths of 141 people, has rightly caused outrage in our society. However, this outrage is not enough.

When I first heard about this attack, I kept thinking about Malala Yousafzai. When she was attacked two years ago, there was an uproar across Pakistan. Candlelight vigils were organized. Protests and marches were held. Everyone from (now Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif to the terrorist group responsible for the Mumbai massacre, Jamat-ud-Dawa, strongly condemned the shooting. This widespread outrage led many people, including myself, to believe that this was our watershed moment. Finally, Pakistanis would wake up to the dangers of religious extremism. We would force our government to take a harder stance on violent religious extremists. We would confront apologists for religious extremism in the public sphere. Our government would finally abandon  support for religious extremist militias as a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

This did not happen. Instead, Malala was viciously maligned. Only a few days after her attack conspiracy theories took hold of the public imagination, and continue to persist today. Malala became a CIA agent. Her attack was coordinated by Americans to sway public opinion on drone strikes, to promote nudity and to defame Pakistan. She was a drama queen, who staged her shooting to get a Western visa (much in the vein of Mukhtar Mai, who apparently got gang raped to obtain a Western visa). She survived only to receive death threats and now lives in exile. Her Nobel laureate status has only emboldened these conspiracies. Her memoir has been banned from (some) schools. This year, students from all across Pakistan participated in "I am not Malala" day.

The attack on the army public school in Peshawar is our darkest hour (of yet). There have been candlelight vigils. There have been protests. Apologists for religious extremists are being shamed in opinion columns. Leaders of political parties are being taken to task from their lax record on rising religious extremism in our society. I would like to believe that this is our watershed moment. This is when we decide as a nation to stand up to the forces of religious extremism in our midst.

But I'm not so hopeful this time around. Already, former dictator prime minister Pervez Musharraf has blamed India as well as Afghanistan for masterminding this attack. A few days ago, military apologist Mubahser Luqman claimed on national television that there were confirmed reports of a possible Indian government sponsored terrorist strike by Pakistan intelligence agencies. And our awaam on twitter has followed suit.

On a darker note, the public grief and outrage to this attack has defined (for me) acceptable and unacceptable loss in our society. On December 16th, my twitter feed was full of disbelief, grief, condemnation, rage and outrage. As we lamented the death of innocents, I thought about the worshippers at All Saints Church and Garhi Shahu/Model Town mosques in Lahore, the Hazara marketgoers in Quetta and the Christian residents of Gojra (to name a few). I thought about the similar and yet different response their deaths elicited. I don't want to claim that these attacks were not condemned. They were. But not with the same urgency and vehemency, that the #PeshawarAttack has elicited. Is this because our dead are were children, explicitly targeted for being children? Or do we grieve more because of their class, non-minority status, military connection and urban location?  We did not grieve like this for Christian, Ahmadi, Hindu and Shia victims of extremist violence. We did not grieve like this for the victims of school bus attacks in Quetta or Charkha Khel.

In response to the Peshawar attack, the Pakistani Christian community decided not to celebrate Christmas this year, a gesture which has yet to be reciprocated by the Muslim majority. We have never cancelled our religious festivities out of respect for the victims of  the All Saint Church attack, Gojra or Kot Radha Kishan. The loss of our children as a result of terrorism is unacceptable (and rightly so). The loss of our Ahmadi, Hindu, Christian and Shia citizens in daily attacks however, are deemed acceptable. Their lives are not equal to ours. Their deaths don't matter. 

1 comment:

  1. this has nothing to do with this post, I just came across your "hijab" post, it is definitely your choice but regarding islamic views about hijab you can read here (just scroll at bottom) can you tell me how many pieces of clothing are for a woman's kafan ? 5, and 1 of the pieces is used to cover head (hair) and one to cover bosom, if Allah wants a woman to return to her final place with head covered why would he not want it in this world ? still it is your choice may Allah guide us all to righteous path..aameen