One can only hope that Pakistan will recover and understand what happened after the ghastly terrorist assault on a school in Peshawar by gunmen belonging to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan on December 16. Over 130 lives, most of them children, have been lost in this attack. This is the year that Malala Yousafzai won a Nobel Peace Prize for her courage in continuing with her campaign for the education of the girl child even after a Taliban attack on her school almost killed her.
A man comforts a student standing at the bedside of a boy who was injured in a Taliban attack on a school, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Tuesday. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding scores in the attack. Pic/PTI
A TTP spokesperson apparently said that the organisation’s “operatives” were told not to kill “minor children”. What an attempt at justification. To enter a school with guns and then distinguish between ages before shooting as if that makes it all right. If Pakistan does have a means of stopping these attacks, one way would be by reviewing its policies where religious fundamentalists have been encouraged to flourish for whatever reasons, many admittedly to do with the hatred of India and an obsession with Kashmir. When Pakistan recovers from its grief, the world can only wish that it examines why what happened the way it did or all those people’s deaths will be even sadder. Right now, it is recovery and reconstruction and the horror of the attack is so strong that all words and sentiments sound like meaningless platitudes.
But there is also something that runs deeper than geopolitics and covert and overt government actions. There is something that runs deeper than ideologies and logical arguments. It is an inner hatred and an ease with which minds can become corrupted and indoctrinated and lose track of simple compassion and humaneness. Humanity we see around us and we ill-treat it every day, much as we do with animals and the environment. But to be humane requires more effort.
Is it the belief system that is so strong that it blinds you to the horror of aiming your gun at schoolchildren and pulling the trigger? Or is it an inner compulsion that is given teeth and muscle by a belief system? There is a reason why the shooters are usually young men and the planners are older men. Across the world and regardless of region and religion, we see manifestations of this brutality. We use animal analogies but we are the animals that behave more like this than any other. And we alone use logic, reason, semantics and technicalities to wiggle out of our cruel actions. Words like “friendly fire” and “collateral damage” are ways to dull our own sensitivities to what we are doing. Often governments and terrorists walk along similar paths.
The TTP is using drone attacks as one of their excuses. It is a “my pain is greater that your pain” argument which cannot stand up to any scrutiny at all. If nothing else, this is only a further justification of inhumanity because it weighs one life against other and decides for itself which is more valuable. It is a thought process all of us are guilty of at some time or another, especially when we say, “better him than me”.
While one can only hope that Pakistan can find some way out of this mess, a basic understanding of the human species can only make one cynical. The downward spiral of hatred that turns to violence and is given strength by a belief system whether religious or secular has repeated itself over and over again. Religion is the most common culprit for all that it preaches, compassion and peace. But secular movements like communism have also shown us man’s unbelievable inhumanity to man.
Perhaps the only possible hope is that we are aware of ourselves and our actions at an individual level. Every time we support any kind of hatred, bigotry and fundamentalism for any reason at all, we are feeding the monster. Every time we let our insecurities transform us into something worse than ourselves, we are feeding the monster.
And as people discover all too horrifically, then the monster that is us consumes them.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona