Haunting images of Pakistani parents burying their children have gone viral on the Internet and news of the lone lunatic of Sydney is competing for airtime with the pogrom of Peshawar. Although the geopolitical context, and indeed ramifications of both events are very different from each other, they both serve to underscore that unfortunate reality: children and women bear the brunt of war and violence.
If Americans sprayed fertiliser and napalm in Vietnam or used uranium tipped weapons in Iraq then today ISIS seem to revel in subjugation, humiliation and torture. If the Russians targeted young Chechens then the Chechens also killed innocent civilians in cinemas and schools. If Israeli-guided weapons systems, despite all their technological advancement, have bombed schools then Hamas rockets have killed Israeli children. Today, hundreds of thousands of children are forcefully recruited as child soldiers in many of the conflicts around the world. Of course, some of these conflicts are asymmetrical, others are hopelessly one-sided and yet others seem doomed to a perpetual cycle of violence, that is catalysed by the hollow pontifications of politicians who cite 'geo-political' interests, 'security needs' and 'strategic depth' in order to justify their positions.
The attack on innocent school children in the wake of Malala's Nobel Prize ceremony only serves to underscore her message as well as highlighting the fact that the most vulnerable members of society are the ones that pay for the political machinations of others. It is also important to remember that for every Malala there is a Nabilah. Malala survived being shot in the head by a member of the Taliban, a word that incidentally derives from the Arabic word for 'student,' while Nabilah survived a drone strike. Nabilah's father is a schoolteacher and her grandmother was killed by the drone strike picking okra in the fields, while seven of her siblings were badly hurt in the attack. Unfortunately, despite visits to Europe and America, Nabilah's case received very little coverage, which perhaps speaks more of the way in which certain victims are deemed more newsworthy than others, than it does of the righteousness of her cause. Here it is important to highlight that often Malala has consciously resisted being made into a cover girl for the West's efforts to bring freedom and democracy to the rest of the world and has articulated positions that are often ignored in parts of the media. Despite all this, surely we should all acknowledge that both children have survived equally harrowing experiences and one's pain cannot possibly outweigh the others.
The fundamental problem, it seems, is that people are incapable of seeing beyond their own necessarily restricted and shortsighted world views. In other words, people cannot see beyond their 'in-group.' Thus, a liberal is only enraged by certain events whilst other events are explained away by ascribing them either to the shortcomings of others or by simply using hollow terms such as 'collateral damage'. Similarly, religious conservatives see conspiracy in everything and cannot for a moment reflect on their own actions. They therefore even seek to justify the death of innocents as the logical outcome of someone else's political actions. In this vicious cycle of self-justification the only people who become victims are those innocent children who are still incapable of seeing the world in shades other than black and white.
In the aftermath of the tragedy in Peshawar, I was amazed to see a Maulana Abdul Aziz on Pakistan's ZemTV virtually refusing to condemn the event, while also trying to argue how all this was the result of politician's shortsighted policies. Analyses will take place and much ink will be spilt on trying to make sense of what frankly can never make sense to those who had unknowingly said goodbye to their loved ones on a winter morning. However, before we talk of radical Islamists or the Taliban, of Pashtun and Punjabi, ethnic rivalries or the ISI's patronage of militant extremists in Waziristan, we must first acknowledge the inhumanity of the situation we find ourselves in. As we grieve, we must also acknowledge that if we selectively raise our voices then we are hypocritical in our condemnations.
Today, we are all responsible for a world in which children become victims of what we have created. We live in an economic system that thrives on conflict. We have built a world in which we vote for governments that invest more in war than in education. We propagate and glorify a culture of violence. We add caveats to the suffering of others. We distinguish between instruments and methods of death as if that somehow explains away the suffering of victims. Our actions make victims of children and despite all this, after every Peshawar, we mindlessly continue on the same destructive path that we were on earlier. Today we are responsible because we have failed to keep the peace that is the right of all children.