On December 16, 2014, Pakistan experienced the darkest day in its history. Barbaric monsters from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) massacred over 144 people, out of which 132 were children, at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar. The youngest of victims were six-years-old. Many young children saw friends, teachers and staff from their school slaughtered in front of their eyes. Many lay amongst dead bodies, pretending to be dead themselves. The horrors of that day are too unbearable to think about and too graphic to mention. The world watched and turned its eyes away. One hundred and twenty two dead children and no outrage by the world outside of Pakistan, no moments of silence offered for the death of humanity, no profile pictures changed to green and white.
The children and staff of that school are resilient and have given the whole country the hope we thought we had lost. It’s hard to even fathom what the mothers, the fathers, and the loved ones went through that day, let alone to think about the collective grief of the victims’ families and friends – and the collective grief of a nation that came together from all parts of the world.
My experience that day, and in the days following, was similar to my other Pakistani friends I spoke with, here in the US. I remember waking up, reading the news, and feeling like I had been punched in the stomach. It felt like the world had ended – or should have ended – but it hadn’t. I talked with friends back home and friends here from back home, all of us shocked and grieving together. I called the local mosques and asked if there was a vigil or any space for Pakistanis to come together. There wasn’t any that day but a Pakistani woman I spoke to at the Islamic centre in Columbia Heights asked if we could just talk and we cried together. A few days later, the Pakistani community and allies came together for a vigil in Columbia Heights. I got to meet many people who were grieving and coming together to find some solace and peace in the presence of our own people.
What disturbed me the most, however, was that even my most vocal and politically active friends weren’t speaking of it. It wasn’t unusual but this time it was the most bothersome. Hardly anyone outside of Pakistan was acknowledging it. I get it. We can’t follow every tragedy in every part of the world and just because we aren’t posting on social media doesn’t mean we don’t care. But there is no denying that there is some special level of apathy that the world has towards Muslims and especially Pakistanis today. And no, it’s not just reserved for terrorist attacks because ‘they are so common, they aren’t shocking anymore’. Even in situations of natural disasters we forget some behind.
You might have heard this before; the devastating effects of the 2010 floods in Pakistan had been estimated to exceed those of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Tsunami in 2004 and the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, combined.
In January 2010, as the US economy remained in crisis, the American Red Cross’s text message campaign for the Haiti Earthquake generated $32 million within days, receiving up to 200,000 per hour at times.
In August 2010, a similar Red Cross campaign was launched for the Pakistani flood victims but this effort yielded only $10,000 by the end of the month, which is 0.03 per cent of what Haiti received. The figures of the help received per victim for the Haiti earthquake, Tsunami, and Kashmir earthquake were $1,087.33, $1,249.80, and $388.33 respectively. By September 2010, the world had given only $16.36 per Pakistani victim.
The point I am trying to make here is not that victims of other disasters or terrorist attacks should have received less recognition, support, or help but that the victims in Pakistan did not receive enough.
All of this is even more relevant a year later today. While it’s great to see celebrities and public figures denouncing the vile and hateful rhetoric against Muslims and recognising that we are most impacted and victimised by terrorism, what matters more to me is when I hear that from my friends and acquaintances. You might think that social media or a group conversation in person is no place for such support and that your Muslim friends already know that you have their backs, but please know that it matters so much when you speak up against the hatred of my religion and people or in support of them.
There are many ways to show your support and it’s not just limited to words. Please create spaces for your friends, co-workers, and acquaintances that belong to religions or countries or communities that are impacted by violence. It’s hard to walk into a meeting and explain you are not mentally present because your heart has been ripped to shreds because 7,000 miles away, 150 people you didn’t know were killed that morning or because a bomb blast a mile from your parent’s apartment left their windows broken. It’s hard to sit around friends and not feel awkward explaining you are upset because there was yet another bomb blast in your hometown and you were unable to get in touch with your family because the phone lines were down.
It would be easy if we could have a thick skin and not let words of strangers impact us but please know that despite our sarcastic comebacks and witty memes, this hate-filled anti-Muslim rhetoric cuts deep. It really hurts. So please, speak up.
If you have Muslim friends, reach out to them with kind words and speak up against the hateful rhetoric targeting them. People are entitled to their opinions about the refugee crisis and any international affairs and are entitled to express them. I don’t have issues with that. It’s the vile, ignorant, and hateful speech I am talking about, that bothers me. If you have friends whose countries are plagued by violence, reach out when you hear of a tragedy happening there. Privately or publicly, learn, acknowledge, and speak about the atrocities faced by the communities your friends belong to. Your words and actions matter so much right now.
You can start today by spending some time thinking about the APS Peshawar attack in Pakistan and learning about the victims.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa