I walked into the newsroom on Tuesday and logged in. It felt like a normal day, sat out on the balcony, next to my manager. As I do every day, I looked at the headlines to acquaint myself with what is going on so that I would be on top of the curve in the office. Making a good impression. I’d never even heard of Peshawar before, but I knew who the Taliban were. The more of the article I read, the more the hole is my stomach grew and filled with sickness. I asked for five minutes to compose myself outside in the fresh air – making sure that I didn’t make eye-contact with anyone, my eyes fixed on the way ahead.
The room continued as normal, buzzing with stories, but I could not help but feel hollow. You can understand it, you become desensitised to tragedy and loss because there is so much of it that stains the papers everyday with blood. But I am not of such a breed, it is not my job to report on what happens – but my duty as a human being to feel the loss of 132 sets of families in the same moment.
It didn’t make me angry. It made me fearful. Frightened of an existence where a human being, (although I would not classify the beings that conducted those acts to have humanity) can walk into a classroom and shoot a group of innocent children. Who can then, after hearing the screams and seeing the room turn scarlet, casually walk into the next and repeat the same thing again. Walking around to make sure that not a single child would stir amongst the occupation of their thick, black military boots.
Conflict has become dirty. It is abhorrent to be in a society where individuals who have no hope of defending themselves can be extinguished. Where the bodies of innocent school children are sacrificed to make a political point. Have we stooped so low? The saddest part is that these kids were learning to look past the differences. They were becoming wiser. But when the ignorant are armed with guns, their textbooks do not provide sufficient protection.
I am an advocator of free education. A sense of learning and entitlement. But can we really advocate education without protecting it? Malala survived, but how many children are extinguished every day for getting on a school bus, when we complain that our own bus is 10 minutes late? The gulf between the young people of the three worlds is getting wider and it won’t be long before the conflict becomes out of arms reach. We make our placards about education for all, we demonstrate for cuts in fees, but how many of us actually use our learning to help those that really need it? Education is a right that needs to be protected, because when we don’t, it becomes a weapon in a political power play.
Trafalgar Square was solemn on Wednesday night. I arrived 40 minutes before the candlelit vigil was set to begin, organised by university students, to remind the people of Peshawar that the world was with them. But it wasn’t the people, or the lights, or the pictures that made me think – but it was the signs. The title of this post was written on a placard at the front, “What Can I Write On This To Bring Them Back”, others read simply “Enough. We are tired.” So am I. Tired of walking into a newsroom and seeing the anguish of families carrying their loved ones in rushed, wooden caskets, as the world starts to forget they exist.
“When a wife dies, we call the husband is a widower. When a husband dies, we call the wife is a widow. When parents die, we call the child an orphan. But when a child dies, there is no word to encapsulate the pain that the parents feel – we just cannot begin to imagine this suffering” – Taken from a speech at the candlelit vigil
There is nothing I can say here that is going to bring them back. There is nothing that, God forbid, will stop tragedies like this occurring tomorrow. However, the thing that will change is the attitude I saw at the vigil. People standing in silence, together, existing as a barrier between the ignorant and the innocent. We will protect them from harm. Condemnation is not enough anymore, and violence is all too much. It’s time we stopped skimming and really started talking about it. Hold hands with the person next to you, hold their hearts and realise that they are all you have, even if you don’t know them.
When we start realising how precious life is – how survival is really all we have – then we can start building the bridges towards each other. Just start by seeing the humanity in others, and it can’t be lost. Not entirely anyway. Because spirit is bulletproof.
Never forgotten in our souls – the 141 that didn’t make it out of school this time. They wait for us by the gates.