This morning I woke up unaware of the ordeal hundreds had endured overnight while I slept. Terrorists had entered a school in Peshawar and killed more than a hundred innocent children while my own safely dreamed in their soft beds. My Twitter feed alerted me to the calamity that had befallen the land of my birth, and the rest of the day was spent in a strange kind of agony. How many of us sleep safely in our beds without a thought for those who are killing and being killed in other parts of the world? Perhaps we have become immune to the suffering of others because that’s the only way to survive the mental and emotional stress of living in a violent and cruel world.

Sometimes, though, something gets through that veneer and we find ourselves a crumpled mess of pain and rage. Questions that can never have any answers swirl around the brain and we want to rush home to hug our children so tightly they ask anxiously what’s wrong. Sadly, they too live in this world and know that life can be too easily snatched away. They watch television, listen to the news, discuss events with their peers in school. No matter how hard we try, we cannot shield them from the ugliness of our reality.

A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old son was asked to write an essay about a country he had visited. I wondered at his teacher who assumed that children in the third grade would be world travelers, but my son remained unfazed. In his eight years on earth, he has traveled more than the average child and all to one place: Pakistan, the birthplace of his parents. It took him a while to write the essay, and when he showed it to me, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or be angry. His essay was exactly two lines long:

“The country I have visited is Pakistan. I don’t want to go there again because it is a country where bad guys try to kill you. The End.”

Like any parent, I was worried with my son’s writing, for a number of reasons. What would his teacher think when she read it? I don’t want other people to think badly of the nation that gave me so much. On one hand, an essay with two sentences isn’t really an essay, but on the other, those two sentences said all he wanted to say, to explain his obviously strong feelings about a country he didn’t live in. Or so I thought. I practically forced him to add a few sentences about the culture of Pakistan, but the original words kept me up that night. I wondered what had made him feel this way, why at the tender age of eight he was thinking of bad guys killing him.

Today, as I reel from the shock of the Peshawar attacks, I understand my son and why he wrote that essay. His sentiment didn’t need an entire page; he is a smart kid and he was able to articulate his fears in two lines. Today, I realized that sometimes life is all black and white, and there are indeed bad guys and good guys. If there is an evil, this is it. What kind of monster does it take to kill a hundred school children? Unlike the mass shootings here in the U.S., Peshawar’s murder rampage wasn’t the result of mental illness or lax gun control laws. It was insanity, plain and simple.

We all know who committed this horrific act: the Taliban. The same group that has killed so many others, that tried to end Malala Yousafzai’s life, and that hates freedom and education. This is not religion because God is Good and Kind and Loving. The hateful cancer of extremism has infiltrated life in Pakistan and so many other countries, injuring, maiming, and murdering in the name of God. Yet anyone who is truly Muslim knows these acts are anathema to the teachings of Islam. The Taliban are murderers, and there is no place for murder and mayhem in the pale of Islam. Yes, there will always be the talking heads on certain news channels and the trolls on Twitter who insist that Islam is a terrible, murderous cult, but they are no more representative of my faith than the Taliban. Both sides paint Islam in an ugly light, and it is ordinary helpless mothers who lose their children in the crossfire.

I only hope that this national tragedy can bring the people of Pakistan to their senses and wake them up to the reality that fundamentalism and extremism has no place in a civilized society. I can only pray that one day we can find it in our hearts to love and live in peace no matter what our faith or color or language. Perhaps that hope is the one silver lining above those small coffins lining up tonight for burial. Until the day we all realize this, our children – yours, mine, theirs – will continue to pay the price.

-

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Her upcoming book “Brick Walls: Tales of Hope and Courage from Pakistan” will be published in 2015. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi


Bookmark and Share