There was so much blood in Peshawar, the blood of children. It was painful, painful but apparently replaceable. Replaceable. The outrage of the Peshawar attack should spin the country into a vortex of mourning for years. Each of those 132 children could have held Pakistan’s future in their hands — one of those children could have found the cure to cancer, launched a Mars rover, founded a new economic model, brought forth political reform to push many above the poverty line — and yet, these agents of change have been, yes, forgotten. It is like they were never murdered by the Taliban that wretched December day.
Charlie Hebdo mania has replaced the grief of their loss instead. Thousands are on the streets protesting it whereas the one-month anniversary of the Peshawar attack is marked with silence. The intangible loss has replaced the tangible loss. Pakistani parliamentarians, who find themselves in the company of Boko Haram leaders, have passed a resolution against the cartoons. These lawmakers, whose responsibility it is to protect posterity, the future and the children who will take our morals forward, have failed these very children by taking the bait of the terrorists.
What is it that terrorists want? They want to create so much chaos that we draw our target on the wrong bull’s eye, they want to frighten us into submission to their tyranny and their personalised constitution, they want us to park humanity away and they want to make sure we leave our children unprotected. Well, congratulations to them. For Pakistan, they have done that sitting away in the nooks of France.
Pakistan has already suffered a journalist shot and many people injured to the protests against the offensive cartoons. It has lost more than that. It has lost whatever was left of its soul. Our children, however, are not up for trade. No conflict can be weighed against their blood, especially not one that is not according to the teachings of a religion that professes peace. In his lifetime, the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) preached that the best strategy against those who abused him was to ignore them.
Thanks to Muslims today, who profess to follow his teachings, the readership of Charlie Hebdo has quadrupled. The cartoons that would have typically titillated a handful of its subscriber base have now reached almost every household in Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and, frankly, the rest of the world. So, Muslims must pat themselves on the back for perfecting the lessons they are not supposed to learn: to become a community of terrorism apologists.
The Muslim world has no shortage of talent nor do its cartoonists pull any punches. The Charlie Hebdo assault on the Holy Prophet (PBUH) could have been met with the pen, not with the sword. Some Muslim cartoonists have pointed out the west’s double standards when it comes to freedom of speech through their cartoons. This method of protest would have been not just more effective, it would also halt the terribly bad PR campaign Muslims propagate by proving that the way to fight an insult is by beheading the culprit. Our methods of persuasion have not quite kept up with the times, which makes a difficult case for attracting new entrants. In fact, it makes a good case for the opposite.
As one of the most populous Muslim countries, Pakistan is in a prime position to lead a more decisive plot to integrate modernity with Islam. Until it keeps acting like it has attention deficit, there is nothing it will achieve in terms of turning the tide on the religious extremism that festers.
If Peshawar cannot wake the nation into a systematic and continuous rejection of a brand of Islam that justifies a war on children and other vulnerable people, then nothing will. We must, as a nation, demand that our parliamentarians and our leaders zero in on eliminating the deep rooted rot of extremism: cleanse our curriculum, inculcate a more inclusive discourse in our madrassas (seminaries), restrict hate speech in our mosques and on our television channels, promote a culture of dissent against a retrogressive conservatism that our Urdu press perpetuates, press the military complex to not use religion to fight its wars and stop our mothers from glorifying martyrs.
Children are for building nations, not bringing them down. No child should be slain on the altar of sacrifice. Any nation that asks for that kind of price just so it can be woken up is not worth fighting for. A nation that forgets its slain children is not worth anything at all.