We Can't Allow Terrorists or Politicians to Divide Us by Faith

29 March 2016
Published in

By Rabiya Khan

March 22, 2016

As a Pakistani-American Muslim, I was feeling helpless and angry after the string of terrorist attacks last week. Consequently, I was grateful to see Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's post after the Taliban's despicable terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan on Sunday. At that time of his statement on Facebook, very few people had mentioned it on their Facebook newsfeed and it wasn't getting a lot of media attention.

Zuckerberg poignantly noted that the goal of the this type of terror attack is “to spread fear and distrust, and turn members of a community against each other.” He added, that the best way “to fight back against those who seek to divide us is to create a world where understanding and empathy can spread faster than hate.”

Zuckerberg's comments were a reminder of how my own anger and frustration at the world can be counterproductive at times, and he's right. If we allow these attacks to divide us and alienate us, the terrorists get what they want. They win.

Terrorists want us to live in fear. They kill indiscriminately here and abroad. Their goals are political, not religious. They do not follow my faith or the faith of any God-fearing human.

But sometimes, it appears as though they're winning. My anger and disgust doesn't end at their unjustifiable attacks anymore. I have also begun to harbor resentment at the selective condemnation and sympathy of Western nations toward the violence committed in other parts of the world. Why aren't flags flown at half-mast for victims in Turkey, Africa, The Middle East or Asia?

I noticed how many of my friends changed their profile pictures in solidarity with France and Brussels, and how they shared their distress after the terror attacks in Europe, and yet, these same people chose to remain silent when hundreds were killed in non-Western nations. This all adds to the bitterness I have begun to feel.

On the other hand, I am also aware of how my resentment towards these perceived injustices results in the growing discord and distrust between groups of people, and that's exactly the goal of terrorists; divide and conquer, no matter where they operate.

It's terrifying to know many of us are beginning to believe their lies and their distorted worldview of "us against them." It sometimes seeps into my subconscious, but I don't want their ugliness to invade my heart and mind. I don't support their twisted mission or warped ideology. I support interfaith missions and the power of unity.

But at times, I feel exhausted by the burden terrorism has placed upon me and on other decent Muslims around the world. Not only are we mourning the loss of our friends and relatives overseas and at home, but many of us feel obligated to take a proactive stance against the evil actions of terrorists. We've spent countless hours defending our faith, but with each new attack, our efforts are unraveled and we have to pick up the pieces and start all over again.

To add to our frustrations, nobody seems to care that Muslims are the greatest victims of terrorist organizations. We feel the absence of world leaders who are quick to march in solidarity with the people of Paris, but silent when the Taliban enters schools in Pakistan and murders 100's of school children, or when suicide bombers enter soccer fields, killing innocent sports fans.

Muslims around the world live in a constant state of fear. Not only do we live in fear of terrorists overseas, but we also have to contend with the backlash of bigoted Americans who retaliate by attacking members of our community and our faith. We know the media won't cover these hate crimes on their 24/7 news cycles, and we know politicians won't call for justice for the victims' families. Instead, after every terrorist attack, Muslims are forced to listen to more hate speech by our politicians and leaders; the very people who are entrusted to protect us, instead, leave us feeling vulnerable.

This is how terrorism and hate win.

But no matter how tired or afraid I am, I won't give up. If by speaking out, I am able to open the minds of even a few of the people I come into contact with, then I know it has been well worth the effort. As long as I'm breathing, terrorists will not have the last word.

And that is precisely why we must continue to educate our communities. We must refuse to allow these monsters to sow seeds of hatred and fear between us. We can't let them win. We can't let them make this an "us vs. them" war. We can't let their hateful actions speak louder than our commitment to peace and love.

We need to rise up and stand in solidarity with each other, because WE are all in this together.

Saving Our Humanity In The Face Of Peshawar Tragedy

20 December 2014
Published in

By David Peduto 

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.

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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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Taliban versus Education: Who Will Win?

18 December 2014
Published in Blog

By Yahya Bedair 

December 18, 2014

In an act of utter cowardice, Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar and murdered 145 people. The shocking news is even harder to swallow when one learns that out of the 145 people killed, 132 of them were children. Aged 12-16, these educated children had the potential to make a great impact on their country in the future. But does Taliban want a better Pakistan?

The excruciating news of the Peshawar attack reminded me of the similar violent assault on the Noble Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai. In 2012, Yousafzai was shot three times while boarding her bus to school. She remained unconscious for days and was left hanging between life and death just for promoting women’s right to education. She was targeted because her advocacy for education went against Taliban’s ban, which infuriated the extremist group.

At this point it becomes clear that education is the anathema to Taliban. They tried to kill Yousafzai, they failed. They went on a shooting spree at a school in Peshawar- and they will fail. One thing we need to put in mind is that education will never play in Taliban’s favor. Taliban’s main asset is ignorance; the extremist group relies on recruiting people who can commit acts against Islam- in the name of Islam. To achieve that, it takes some overwhelming ignorance.

Pakistan, in fact, suffers from a serious education problem. According to the UNESCO, Pakistan has the “world’s second highest number of children out of school, reaching 5.1 million children in 2010.” Moreover, the country has 49.5 million illiterate adults, two-thirds of which are women. These figures make Pakistan the host of the third largest illiterate population in the world. These numbers make Taliban feel safe and comfortable. It provides a fertile ground for recruiting people who are easily deluded into joining and accepting the group’s twisted doctrine. Hence, it comes as no surprise that Taliban attacks schools and girls like Malala Yousafzai because these children prove to be the biggest threat to Taliban.

Therefore, the silver lining of this tragic attack is that now we know that the group is very vulnerable and weak. These attacks were meant to scare people from sending their children to schools, but I believe it should encourage them instead. Your children’s education is Taliban’s death sentence. Promote education in Pakistan and work on building more affordable, public schools to the destitute and Taliban will no longer have a place among the Pakistanis.

**In the memory of the 145 killed, you will not be forgotten. Many times we take the privilege of education for granted, but this attack should always remind us that not many enjoy this privilege.**

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Yahya Bedair is a freelance writer. He recently graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in Politics and minors in Economics and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Follow him on Twitter at @TheYB92

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