As a human being, I was disgusted by the Taliban’s attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. As someone of Pakistani descent I was so deeply saddened that yet again the country of my heritage was in the news because of violence and death. As a parent, I was terrified and sickened with grief that this vile act of cowardice was going to change so many lives in so many ways. I found it difficult to read through news articles on the attack because it was so violent and so utterly devastating for the children who died, those who survived, the families whose children were caught in the attack, and the staff at the school. I find myself questioning why I would bring children into a world when they are so unsafe and where they may even be targeted. What do I say to my children about this disgusting act and what we can learn from it?
The first thing I would say to my kids is this: education is an absolute luxury that is never to be squandered or wasted. And I don’t mean that in the mum sense where ‘you should work hard at school so that you can do well in life.’ I mean this: for hundreds of millions of people in the world, education is not a viable option. Poverty, a lack of facilities, a lack of access, and gender are all (removable) obstacles to education. By some ridiculous luck of the draw, you (meaning my child) ended up in a household that could afford to send you to school and in a country that attempts to support you getting an education even if your family is poor. Understand that although this education is being given to you, you are one of the lucky few that is able to access this resource, from your parents being able to attend parent-teacher conferences to signing you up for afterschool programs. Take it for granted and I will home school you and be your teacher, your principal, your superintendent, your guidance counselor, AND your friends and trust me Boo, you don’t want that. Education is one of the few arenas in life that can level the playing field somewhat (harder to do in this country than most though) and so you will always have to work at earning an education because your family background will mean nothing if everyone else is working harder than you.
Second, I will tell my children that this attack stemmed largely from ignorance and the fear that ignorance breeds. The only thing that can break that cycle is education. Not allowing people to access knowledge allows you to control them more easily because they are rarely given all the information they need to make informed decisions (hello Fox news). If you are their only source of information, they will have to do as you tell them. Attacking these children who were trying to learn and better their lives, then, was the Taliban’s cowardly way of attempting to further their influence and control. But education and knowledge have the ability to change lives in a single generation in a way that only basic necessities such as clean water and healthcare can. That speaks volumes about the power and importance of education. Never forget that.
Third, I will tell my children that, as always, the acts of a few extremists, while deplorable, should never undermine their pride in being of Pakistani descent. It would be a disservice to all those who died and to each and every Pakistani that works tirelessly to better the lives of their fellow country people if we allow this act to define Pakistan and its people. There was much media reporting about how maybe Pakistan would now finally start to take the terrorist threat seriously and do something about this problem, as if other nations had nothing to do with the ability of the Taliban and other terrorist groups to grow and gain sympathizers and supporters. Even if my children weren’t Pakistani I would tell them that this affects them because we are all linked. Not in some abstract, the universe-loves-us-all kind of way, but in very real terms. I don’t need to remind you all of how instrumental the West was in bringing the Taliban to power in the region so yes, we are all linked whether we want to acknowledge it or not. So look at this as a human event and not a national one and in so doing you may be able to reveal what part you (and your friends and your communities) can play in the solution.
Fourth, I will tell my children about true bravery and courage in the face of unimaginable odds: Malala Yousafzai. What an impressive and just awe-inspiring person. I will encourage them to read and watch her speeches, follow her life story up until this point, and keep an eye on what she does in the future because she offers us all an education that cannot be taught in a classroom but that we all can benefit from, regardless of our age, nationality, or gender.
I am finding it impossible to spin anything remotely positive or uplifting out of this school attack. Rather than being some point of lively debate that we can rally around, this attack just leaves everyone feeling shocked and sickened. Still, I want my children to know about the world that they’re growing up in and, unfortunately, part of that world is senseless and frightening ignorance and violence. Just because it happened ‘out there’, however, doesn’t mean that we can’t be part of the solution here. These children and these families showed and continue to show unwavering bravery in the face of the most terrifying acts all in the name of education. I will tell my children to keep that with them to remind them how fortunate they are to be able to access education and, whenever possible, to pay that fortune forward.