December 20, 2014
My thoughts remain fixated on the terrible attack at Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. The killing of 145 people, most of whom were but children, is a hard thing to shake. Coming in the wake of a terrible hostage taking in Sydney and amidst the ongoing wave of evil and subjugation propagated by ISIS, the attack has left many asking what has happened to humanity. If people in the world cannot recognize so much as the innocence of children, then what possible hope can we have for our future? If the flag bearers of the world to come are taken away from us, then what does this say about the world and time in which we live?
This is an event that touches us all. According to the Islamic tradition, the Prophet Mohammad once said that to kill one is to kill all of humanity. Whether you accept him as a prophet of God or not, certainly we can all accept the universality of the statement. It asserts the same sentiment of John Donne that no man is an island. Like it or not, we’re in this together.
Since the attack, I have seen tweets flatly stating “Shame on Humanity.” I have seen a cartoon of a freshly dug grave with only the word “HUMANITY” etched on the tombstone. I have seen pictures of the aftermath of what one can do to another, to so many others, in the confines of a school building. It’s saddening, challenging, and leaves anything but optimism for all those exposed to it.
But while the event challenges our belief in humanity, may our response reaffirm our faith in it. We cannot define ourselves by what happens to us. Rather, how we give definition to ourselves is by how we deal with the cards that we are dealt. This is as true on an individual level as it is on an international one. Even in the wake of such terrible tragedy, we have been about the work of defining our humanity.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, people in Peshawar were lining up to give blood to the victims. In cities across Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, candlelight vigils have shed light on the power of solidarity amidst human tragedy. If we believe in humanity, as such events so clearly demonstrate that we do, then surely we believe in the power of good will. It is just such good will that I have seen manifested in an effort to assuage the pain of those most closely affected by the event.
And if we believe in humanity, then we must put all humans in it. We must not allow ourselves the convenience of dismissing the perpetrators of such crimes as “animals” or any other type of non-humans. No, we must face the fact cold and true that the people responsible this attack and others like it are just that – people. We must accept the fact that somehow there are people in the world who feel justified in committing such a heinous act of violence. We must accept the fact that there are conditions in our world, our very human world, that have brought people to the point of accepting wanton killing as a righteous act. We must accept the fact that there exist man-made reasons as to why people feel that it is okay to kill. It is in the hope that by understanding such reasons that we can work to remove the ills that lead to such inhumane acts in our society.
Finally, may we resist the urge to see this attack as but another event in the saga of terrorism that we so readily apply to a place like Pakistan. For many, this act is but the latest indication of the way things have always been and will always be in that faraway country. It need not be this way – indeed, it shouldn’t.
I do not believe in inevitability so much that I do not think people are incapable of righting a wrong. While we cannot change what has been done, we have all the power in the world to shape that which has yet to come. Considering ourselves powerless to positively change the way things are is hardly a testament to the human spirit. We’ve always accepted the challenge and, despite our faults, have been done better for it. That is the humanity I know.
In the wake of such tragedy, may we recourse to our shared humanity and be about the necessary work to mitigate such evil in our time and for our future. We owe it to ourselves, and to the 145 souls we lost but a short time ago.
David Peduto is a student of Islam, the Middle East, and Arabic. He lives in Boston where, when he's not working for a Big Data company, he enjoys paddle boarding on the Charles River and performing improv comedy.
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