November 7, 2014
It happened again. On Sunday, November 2, another terrorist attack took place in Pakistan. At least 56 people were killed in a bombing near the country’s Wagah border crossing with India.
Without even looking at a picture from the scene, you can probably draw a pretty good image of it. Pools of blood, white sheets, people crying. All these terrorist attacks, they all look the same.
While a picture can say a thousand words, what is missing from it can say millions more. In the pictures, we see blood, we see shrouds, we see the tears. These are all readymade images that we can apply no matter the place or the people involved. As one of the characters from John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden, would have it, we’ve come to see what we expect.
A challenge I would pose, however, is for us to contemplate that which we cannot see in these pictures. Since this idea of believing in something we can’t even see may seem ridiculous, allow me to explain.
As a practicing Christian, I’ve come to find that so much of my faith is based on just that. I cannot see God. I cannot testify to the acts of Jesus through my personal experience. Heaven is some land in the hereafter of which I’ve heard much but of which I can draw no memory.
But hearsay is not heresy. Nor does belief belittle our being. It is belief that serves as the foundation of any faith. The power of the unseen has a potency unknown to the mere mortal works of man. Belief sustains, motivates, and enables us to believe in some Greater Good to which we can all contribute.
What you do not see in any pictures from this attack at Wagah is a middle-aged man who lives and works a stone’s throw away in Lahore. He is sitting behind a desk, eyes framed by glasses, with his nephew and myself seated before him. He has the bags under his eyes that a fifteen-hour workday might produce, but a tenacity in the pupils above that seem to operate on a different body clock.
He is a cardiac surgeon who loves what he does. He is the one to whom the “impossible” cases are sent, and then he sends the patients home with better hearts. He’s operated on everyone from government officials to street sweepers. He is a man who believes that no single life is greater than any other. It is to protecting the most valuable gift we have – life – that he has dedicated himself.
And it is for this reason that he gets animated when the topic of terrorism comes up in our conversation. He despises it, he tells us. It undoes everything that a man like him aims to do. It is an affront to his very humanity, let alone his profession. He tells us that “a suicide bomber can kill 200 people like that,” with a loud snap of his fingers, while he and his colleagues will spend however long necessary to save a single life.
The conviction and goodness of this man comes to mind in the wake of this terrorist attack so close to his home. At this moment, he may well be working to save one of the lives that the terrorist involved aimed to end.
I recognize that you have never met or even seen this doctor. But, believe me, I have and am relaying this story to you in as true a form as my memory will allow. He is there, in Lahore, with so many other kind-hearted individuals who just as vehemently despise this act of terror.
A person like this doctor may not be who we see in the pictures from this event. In a similar vain, he may not be the kind of person we would expect to live in a place like Pakistan. But I speak from experience when I say that he does, and that he and so many others make up the overwhelming majority in the Land of the Pure.
So if you see a picture from this attack, or of any other, believe that there is more to complete the image. Because there is. Just because a man like this doctor in Lahore is not caught by the camera does not mean that he is not there. He may not be what we expect, but that is more a reason for us to assess our expectations than to paint a place or a people with the broad stripes of terrorism.
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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