“The common thing between the reactions to these events is our humanity,” Naela Chohan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Australia, said this in Canberra. A few feet away, hidden behind a small crowd of residents of this city and their children, I stood holding a candle, Allama Iqbal’s Lab pey ati hei dua (a prayer on our lips) still lingering from minutes ago in the commemoration of the Peshawar attack that killed over 130 children. A vigil for a world where there are 130 less children to love. Not enough candles can be burned for that loss. Every child’s love brings within it the concentrated power of the universe and its wonders.
In her speech, the High Commissioner was speaking of her tenure here in Australia, starting off with the Sydney café hostage situation where two people were killed and it being followed by the tragic Peshawar attack. The word tragic is not the same overused word here but is a word of the magnitude it can hold; children as young as four have been killed in that siege. The Sydney hostage crisis created panic and fear because there was talk of the hostage having ties to Islamic State (IS), the organisation that trumps al Qaeda in its disregard for life. For hours, while the drama unfolded, the lives of innocent Australians were hanging on the brink on the whim of a madman from Iran.
As horrifying as that was, there is something very brutal about taking a life that has not bloomed yet. Life was taken in so many households in Peshawar’s Army Public School that no matter how many apologies, all parties conferences or abandoning of agitation politics takes place, it cannot stop the country from suffering a blow to its stomach, right where the diaphragm once was. We will not breathe; we will inhale only pain. So standing here in Canberra was a tiny Pakistan singing the anthem, crying the tears for those lost souls, writing them promises that they will not be forgotten and basking under the flag half-mast, miles away from Pakistan. As that Pakistan wept, Australians present at the vigil at the High Commission also wept. They joined in what the High Commissioner called our collective humanity.
Our media will try and tell us that the enemy is evasive, that it is trying to aim for something that is a version of Islam. This is not true. The western media will hyper inflate the threat of sociopaths and label the threat Islamic, it will seek to claim that all Muslims are guilty by association unless they outright come out to claim otherwise, that all Muslims are suspect because if they are not perpetrators they are sympathisers. This is also not true. The enemy is anyone who associates that their cause is bigger than the curse of violence. The sociopaths can choose any construct to identify with and that is the onus of the followers of that construct to disassociate themselves. Muslims are double victims: from those who have declared them unworthy or unholy and from those who accuse them of having a faith the sociopaths have claimed.
Common humanity is the ultimate separator. We no longer live in times where certain groups can be associated with a particular set of behaviours. The world is far too interconnected; globalisation has expanded the tentacles of identity and things are no longer black and white — there is a lot of grey. To decipher the grey we need to see tears for what they are: tears, whether they are shed in Canberra for Peshawar’s children or in Islamabad for Sydney’s café hostage crisis. Like me, many cried for the first and wailed for the other. Like me, many wanted a world free of violence as they wanted it free of suspicion that they sympathised with violence.
Ms Chohan, in the end, talked about hope and how big tragedies can be big turnarounds. While women like her are at the helm — highly competent, able to understand multiple cultures and languages and, more importantly, astute in her understanding of international politics — there is indeed hope that for Pakistan there will be new beginnings. Not in the clichéd sense but in the sense that tragedy brings us closer to recognising our vulnerabilities and it is only in our vulnerability that we truly know ourselves. It is truly then that we connect to the common threads of pain and suffering around the world. It is truly then that we forge the relationships we need to defend our biggest asset, our children.