On Tuesday evening, my Facebook feed was flooded by outrage against an attack on a school in Peshawar, by the Taliban. Close to a 130 people had been reported dead, most of them school students. It was an abhorrent act of violence against individuals who have not yet realized their roles in the world that the Taliban wages war against. The thought of attacking unarmed children disgusts us, right to the core. There can be no legitimate cause or redemption for such an act. Whoever their God is, He is not my God, He is not the God of those children, He is not a God worth the time of any individual who believes in the sanctity of freedom.
Earlier, in response to the violence, I had thought of adrenaline filled verses, but after my usual play with symbolism, I realized something. Our outrage is just as pointless as the attack on the school. People, in general, are still illiterate to the huge influence of symbolism (and the way media (un)consciously uses it) over our lives. The manner in which symbolism affects our perception and understanding of the world cannot truly be fathomed. Yes, it cannot be measured, my observations can be challenged, but nonetheless, it is something to be considered.
Let us consider, what this attack has come to represent. It has come to represent an attack on innocence, an attack against the possibilities of progress, an attack on freedom, a blind following of a bygone era of dictatorial doctrines, and most of all, an attack against knowledge.
The attack itself has become a symbol. A representation of forces in this world that wish for nothing but uncompromising power without any regard for the people they think they represent.
And now, my anger moves. It moves away from the attack. It moves to my friends, the adults I know who condemn this violence but continue to live their comfortable lives. People who raise their voices at dinner tables, but not at the news agencies they watch, not at teachers who do not teach, not at systems that do not work, not at the injustice disguised in the functioning of a society that refuses to accept its own redundancy.
“OH! The world is seeing an unprecedented level of communication! We have never been so interconnected!”
The world has never been blinder. Month after month, MUN after MUN, debate after debate, post after post, conference after conference; people, children, students, adults, Corporate Executives, intellectuals, academicians, all exhibit an astounding ignorance to suffering. They also show an astounding ignorance to potential and possibility.
I have spent 27 hours straight, on multiple occasions, hearing the statement, “There is poverty in Africa”. I recently had the good fortune of transcribing a multinational conclave between various organizations on the development of smart cities, and during the 13 hours I spent transcribing, not once did I hear anyone talk about how smart cities are going to help improve the lives of people who cannot afford the benefits of an internet connection or a smart phone or how the development of these cities would lead to an indirect benefit to the country as a whole. This, to me, is an attack against progress.
In 2009, I remember this distinctly, an entire generation of Somali doctors, who were at their graduation ceremony in Mogadishu, Somalia, were killed by a bomb blast. An entire generation of doctors in a country where the average person cannot even afford 2 meals a day. The article I read this in, was a small box in bottom left corner of the page, in the Global News section. The piece was precisely 5 lines long.
What the media today chooses to represent is what the world chooses to react to. I am not the first to say this but I will not be the last to be unheard. We are not in an age of information. We are in an age of information that profits. Nobody will report something that cannot effectively move people, and move shelves of paper. This is the use of innocence, an effective weaponization of ignorance.
Let’s take a look at the higher education around us. Our hallowed engineering and medical colleges breed the brightest minds of our country. The race to be admitted into halls of knowledge claim hundreds, if not lakhs and thousands of lives, every year. Lives may not necessarily be lost, but dreams are smashed, hopes are snatched, dignity is ripped off individuals, and beautiful minds are forsaken. That may as well be life that is lost. What of those who do get into these grand halls of promise? They are welcomed by substandard facilities. Infrastructure that does not compare to the standards that the students may actually deserve. Nobody can deny that the students who study to get into these colleges are among the most diligent people one would ever come across, however, they are not given their due. And despite this obsession, there aren’t nearly enough colleges in this country to meet the demand, or the supply. Our country sorely lacks physicians, let alone specialized doctors.
Or let’s look at our schools, how many students do you know can be meaningfully employed as soon as they graduate from school? How many students can make sense of reports and engage with abstract information or statistics? How many graduate from school with a sense of wonder and a better understanding of the world? How many leave school cursing its very existence? How many students sit in classes where teachers do not impart valuable education? How many would say what they studied in school was relevant to their lives and their immediate context? How many students would say they graduated from school armed with knowledge that shook their world?
This is an attack on knowledge and propagation of archaic doctrines.
We, today, are only moved by violence and so long as that is a reality, terrorism will continue to exist. That is the definition of terrorism. To use violence to represent and propagate one’s political views. So long as a gun symbolizes torrential change, terrorism will continue. So long as bombs mean change, terrorism will continue. So long as books, minds, and knowledge play the secondary catalyst to progress and movement, students will continue to die.
The attack on the students of Peshawar was a mindless, misguided, political act.
It was also a culmination, as are many misgivings of the world, of the forgetfulness of the people. Somewhere along the way, we forget about the daily injustice of the systems that we occupy. We forget to be angry. We forget to engage. We forget that our lives are not isolated, and maybe not this week, maybe not next month, but in a year, we will forget about the murdered children in Peshawar.
Yes, be angry. Yes, condemn. Yes, live your life happily. But if you do, do not forget. That is the greatest crime that will be committed. The world will forget and the world will move on.
Prayers will be said, candles will be lit and statements will be made. Your life will not change. What good is this information if it does not change you? If it does not rock you to the core and unsettle your existence?
Be angry, be emotional, let the emotion define you. Let the skills and abilities that you have effectively enable your sentiments.
If you truly wish to honor the dead, do not forget.
*Written on 17 December, 2014.