Foreign Policy Blogs

I Am Human

Pakistanis mourn as they attend a funeral for a blast victim of the March 27 suicide bombing, in Lahore (ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistanis mourn as they attend a funeral for a blast victim of the March 27 suicide bombing, in Lahore (ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)

The smell of spices cooking in ghee; the constant hum of a rickshaw, chai on a rainy afternoon, kite festivals and Sufi music. These are just some of the things that are reminiscent for me, and for many others, of our hometown in Lahore, Pakistan. The sad thing about the world we live in is that in the last two weeks there have been two terrorist attacks that have personally affected me. I am one person in some seven billion. Do the math.

A dear friend of mine lost, whom she called, her soulmate in the Brussels attack. When attacks such as the one in Paris last year or the latest in Brussels take place, the world rises up in solidarity, mourning people’s loss. Having spent the better part of my life in Pakistan, I know that our loss is ours alone, any solace we seek must come from within our borders.

And so, when something happened in a part of the world that does not get an app to superimpose its flag on one’s Facebook profile picture—I ached. I was in pain for those who were merely a statistic. My father once said “life here [in Pakistan] is cheap…” Every time our country lost people to a terrorist attack, I felt it. I felt the lack of sympathetic outpour when compared, to say, the “Je Suis Charlie” movement. To me, and to many who come from countries tormented by daily terrorism, this juxtaposition was borderline racist.

22 March, 2016, was the date I turned racist. My friend lost her husband that day in Brussels. Her world, and indeed that of the victims’ families, has been forever shattered. The loss is not a result of a predictable ailment, or a war that you are actively participating in. It is not a freak accident on a highway, or a natural disaster enveloping thousands within its folds. It is you, going about your day, and being blindsided by someone’s insanity. The senselessness of the act and the result is irreconcilable—and so, how do you even begin to recover from it?

I did not know my friend’s partner very well. I know he was, as she put it, “intelligent, articulate and curious.” He was also young. My heart ached for him, for my friend, for their families and just in general—it ached. Having seen terrorist attacks first hand, having been part of the aftershocks of one and having worked with families that have been displaced in Pakistan due to the insurgency, I was very aware of the bereavement. Somehow, it had never hit me the way Brussels did.

When I saw social media posts calling out the double standards with which the world mourned the Brussels attacks in comparison to how it mourned others, I was personally offended. I was offended for my friend, for her partner, for their families and the families of the others lost in this insanity. It seemed so obtuse, so counter-intuitive!

Yet, I have made those comparisons in the past and have probably felt more ache when Pakistan is a victim than when terror strikes another country, farther from me and my home in Lahore. And so, a couple of days later when Lahore was attacked and children died, I cried. I cried harder than I had cried before, and could not help but continually think of my friend and her loss.

To me, everything had melded into one big pool of sorrow that we, as a humanity, were trying to claw our way out of. Day after day we hear of attacks, and day after day my heart breaks even further. The hijacker that routed a plane to Cyprus, although just a lovesick fool, had me gnawing at my nails all morning. Were we to lose more lives to lunacy that day?

While for days I found it difficult to fall asleep and difficult to get out of bed all the same, I saw stories of the immediate reaction of Lahore—the queues of people at hospitals, ready to donate blood, the endless supplies and presents for the children pouring in, and the instant love that Pakistani’s showed for each other.

We may suffer from domestic conflict, but in the time of need, Pakistanis have come together and have proven stronger than any developed country I have seen. A part of me thinks it is because when faced with crisis, we do not expect the government to play its role—we expect it to falter, or at least, be delayed in its actions. Therefore, we cannot wait for it and must step up. The sudden resolve I saw in Pakistanis in general, and Lahoris in particular, to prevent terrorists from thinking that they have won, to show them that we will not be frightened by their inhumanity, has reminded me of the strength of people as a whole. It has helped me fall asleep, and get out of bed.

“You can’t live your life afraid to leave your house.” That’s what my friend’s husband had said to her when they spoke of terrorist attacks around the world.  And so we will not. We will continue to lead our lives the way we have, maybe with a little more caution; and hopefully, with a lot more empathy. We should all feel pain for someone we do not know—we have an unending supply of compassion, and must not be so stingy with it.

Ik ben Brussel ( I am Brussels)

میں ہوں لاہور ( I am Lahore)



Sahar Said
Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.

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