#PeshawarAttack: 10 ways we should not have reacted

Published December 22, 2014
A school textbook lies on the carpet inside APS a day after an attack by Taliban in Peshawar on December 17, 2014.—AFP
A school textbook lies on the carpet inside APS a day after an attack by Taliban in Peshawar on December 17, 2014.—AFP

The standing of a nation is determined by how they react to a tragedy. All nations face tragedies. Pakistan faces them more often than most, but the events of Tuesday shook even this hardened nation.

For a time, it seemed, the tragedy will unite the people. Everyone was in a state of mourning.

However, our reactions after the immediate mourning have ranged from slightly off bad to downright horrible. Every time I log into any social media platform, I am shocked by what I read.

1. Justifying/rationalising the attacks

Let’s get one thing straight: there is no religion in the world that would call for a savagery like the Peshawar attack. It is bad enough that you are so shorn of humanity that you will find the Peshawar massacre justifiable, but it’s made even worse by finding its justification in religion.

Explore: 20 questions we should be asking after the Peshawar massacre

The historical context also does not justify the attacks. Children have died in drone strikes and military operations but that does not make walking into a school and shooting young children any less indefensible. It is not less unjustifiable because they were army kids, it is also not worse because they were army kids; they were kids, period.

If that does not make your heart break, get medical (read mental) help.

2. Bomb their villages/Kill their families

It is our humaneness which makes us better than them. If we lose that, we are simply giving in to what they want.

The need for vengeance is understandable. The attack left the entire nation fuming with rage, but we should not burn ourselves in that fire. It makes sense to demand that members of militant organisations and adherents of militant ideology are hunted down and killed or captured, but this does not call for activities risking the lives of innocent people. There is always collateral damage in war, but taking the collateral for granted will make the war pointless.

We have to be better than them, always remember that.

3. Hang them in the streets

I am torn on the issue of death penalty. I am not completely against the idea since Pakistan has a history of militants breaking out of jails, and these criminals should suffer for their crimes against humanity, but it is something that needs to be done, not something we should enjoy doing.

Also read: Are we any different from the terrorists?

There is no reason to make a public spectacle of it and then share pictures all over social media. Using dead bodies to make a public statement is a very dangerous precedent to say the least.

4. Nuke India

Most of Pakistan appreciated the support and sympathy extended by India to Pakistan in the wake of the tragedy. Many Bollywood superstars came out with condolences and condemnations. Anupam Kher even penned an open letter. #IndiaWithPakistan was trending on Twitter. It was heartening to see the people of the two countries set aside their differences to come together for humanity.

However, some segments of the media fuelled the anti-India narrative in Pakistan. They didn't lose a second in blaming RAW for the attack, despite the fact that TTP had already accepted it. The ensuing situation led to many anti-India comments on social media, the worst of which was the suggestion of a nuclear war.

Often, both India and Pakistan are seen mentioning the nuclear option with frightening casualness. The governments and the media on both sides of the border should take a lot more caution; we will not only lose our children but also our unborn children if, god forbid, nukes ever come into play.

5. XYZ did it

Conspiracy theories rang on. Despite the TTP accepting responsibility for the attack, all kinds of theories were prevalent, ranging from Imran Khan orchestrating the attack to find a face-saving way to end the dharna to Nawaz Sharif being the mastermind of the attack to get Imran Khan to end his dharna.

Could we not have forgotten about the dharnas for a few days, at least?

Take a look: Our denial killed children in Peshawar

One popular anchor even put a clearly photoshopped picture on his Facebook account linking one of the dead terrorists to Malala. When Malala was shot, a lot of people claimed Taliaban could not do it since she was a school-going child. The Peshawar massacre should have brought these people to their senses, but surprisingly, some people became even more vehemently anti-Malala after the tragedy.

6. Kill the liberal dogs/Kill the mullahs

As the divides between the camps kept growing every day, the unified front put up by the country was soon in tatters. Many used the #AskGHQ trend on Twitter to viciously attack liberals; blaming liberals for causing the attacks because of their “anti-army” sentiments.

I personally see no problem in asking for accountability, but people asking for every mosque to be shut down in Pakistan and every mullah to be hanged are too far removed from the ground reality. The extreme opinions on both sides of the divide simply make the chasm bigger. It has come to a point where death threats are being thrown around casually for anyone’s liking on Twitter.

Look through: 5 awful responses to Sana Mirza’s harassment at the PTI rally

Then there are people criticising the holding of vigils for being un-Islamic. It only hurts the feelings of those who are taking some semblance of comfort in these shows of solidarity. These vigils bring prayers and compassion with them. Our religion is a religion of compassion. Lets all learn to show some for each other.

7. Impose military coup

One of the oldest and quite venerable television anchors has appeared on television multiple times claiming that martial law has been imposed in the country, all but in name.

While it is true that the nation is in a state of emergency, and many of the decisions being taken without the legal process taking its due course, it isn't like the civilian government has lost all authority.

To use the tragedy to further your political beliefs, or to call for a change of regime or spread false chaos is utterly unacceptable. This is the time for the nation to stand united under the leadership despite having disagreements with them. You can question their decisions and call for accountability or transparency, but to call for an overthrow of the government at this time is treasonous.

8. Sharing all the images

Despite all the pleas, including by psychiatrists, to not share the images of dead bodies; warning people of the potential psychological damage, especially to children who see them; the images continue to be shared rampantly all over social media.

A mother told a story of how her little daughter told her she would not go to school anymore because she saw on TV that kids get beat up so much at school that they start bleeding. And that is so despite the fact that the poor soul did not even understand the extent of the tragedy.

This disrespect to the parents, family members and friends of the deceased children absolutely must stop. Next time you consider posting an image, take a moment to think, how would the parents feel, watching pictures of their dead child on Facebook?

9. Interviewing kids in the hospital

Taking cue from popular anchors, many citizens have started going to hospitals and the houses of the victims to interview them. These poor children are forced to relive the worst moments of their lives. Unless you are a qualified psychiatrist, there is a high risk that whatever you say to the child may make the trauma worse.

Explore: Anatomy of an apologist: A double-act play

The children are also being encouraged to take up militancy against the terrorists. While it is completely acceptable for these children to grow up wanting to join the police or army, using these interviews to encourage militancy may make some of the people watching them take up the law in their own hands.

The last thing Pakistan wants is more militants.

10. What if it was your child?

It may seem like a completely innocuous thing to say, but it is tangibly offensive to the victims and their mourners.

What are you telling them, that one needs it to be their child to have empathy? That we must feel sadder because the kid was from a certain country, certain religion or certain ethnicity is against the idea of humanity. The world has been unanimous in their support and sympathy; we should do the same the next time there is a tragedy anywhere in the world.

Implying that someone would not feel the pain unless they imagined the victim to be their child is wrong and goes against the humanistic ideals we should be promoting in Pakistan. You should not have to imagine it a certain way; you should learn to feel for everyone’s children.

Think about what you are saying the next time you share your opinion publicly. Sometimes even the best of intentions go astray with a few bad choices of words. We are all in this together; we cannot lose our humanity in the face of the worst tragedy we have faced. It is the pain that makes us human, not the anger.



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