In 2014 after the attack in Peshawar a friend and I went to visit the ambassador from Pakistan to Norway at the Pakistani Embassy in Oslo. What we met was a man in tears, heartbroken over the turn his country had taken and the violence suffered by its children. It was a touching moment of human pain in the face of loss of innocent lives in a country where loss of innocent lives are far too common.
Last semester I had the pleasure of sharing my room on campus in Ankara with another Pakistani friend. He was from the region of Peshawar. We had many wonderful conversations through which I learnt a lot about the complexities of the beautiful but wounded country that Pakistan is. Among his frustrations was the fact that certain attacks, like the Peshawar school attack gets a lot of international attention while the daily lives, and terrors regular Pakistanis live through goes unreported.
It hurts me to see Pakistan hurt, and I worry about the biases of western media and the people it’s turning us into through its dehumanising portrails of others.
First of all, there is the sense that some lives matter more than others. It always becomes incredibly evident when reading the medias response to attacks in the west, such as in Belgium, France, USA, London and Norway and comparing it to the reports of attacks in places like Turkey, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan etc. Even though I’m sure Norway has a much larger Pakistani and Turkish than Belgian expat community the attack in Lahore had to take second place after news about the traffic during Easter Sunday, while the attack in Brussels turned the front-pages black for days.
After the tragic attack on the Army School in Peshawar the media seemed somewhat more interested in the 141 people killed. They did however completely fail to mention the 5355 other people who in 2014 were killed in terrorist attacks across Pakistan. Was that purely coincidental? Was it because the target of the attack was a school and thus children were involved? Or was it because of who the parents of those children were, often political, bureaucratic and military leaders as the fact was that it was an Army School?
Yesterdays attack seems to have targeted christians celebrating easter in a park. Todays headlines confirms this, across the west they are focusing on the christianity of the victims, again boxing those affected by terrorism into the classic ‘us’ and ‘them’ the muslims vs. the christians, the clash of civilisations, a destructive, dehumanising and violent narrative that’s bound to only cause more harm.
So far in 2016 572 people in Pakistan have been killed in terrorist violence (numbers up until the 20th of March), why didn’t we hear about them? Is it because the media again care more for the christian minority than for other Pakistanis?
For many in the west Pakistan remains a mystery, like much of the muslim world it looks to us, through western media, like an incomprehensible mess. In the eyes of the west most Pakistanis are either cab-drivers, opium farmers or goat herders. We fail to equate Pakistani lives to our own, and we fail to see the value of the lives of Pakistanis as equal to our own lives. This despite the fact that modern cities like Islamabad and Lahore has blooming tech industries and high standards of living. It makes it easier for us, possibly by design, to hear about children in remote corners of the country who are scared of blue skies because western drones then fly above them with deadly cargo, killing seemingly at random, but it’s not right.
At the end of the day the attacks today and in 2014 are deeply saddening, so are all the attacks that have happened in between then and now and that has eluded the medias attention completely. Every life lost to terrorism and violent extremism is a tragedy regardless of the background of the victims. We do however fail to honour this equality in the way we tell the stories of violent extremism and terrorist attacks. By failing to do so we fall in the trap of terrorists by seeing certain people as less valuable than others, simply because we see them as different, and perhaps less ‘human’ than us. If we are to build peace, if we are to find real peace, if we are to challenge violent extremism and combat terrorism we have to get past this notion and realise that all lives are equally important. All deaths are equally tragic, every loss is a personal loss to someone, someone loved, and our response should thus be equal as every life in the eyes of the world as we proceed in our global work against violent extremism and for peace needs to be seen as equally valuable.