What should’ve been a somber remembrance of the most violent and horrific act in Pakistan’s history and memory was brazenly converted into a national spectacle on the 16th amid no sense of shame or respect.
Knowing the nature of the course things in Pakistan tend to take on occasions and days of some significance, the sensible thing to do for anyone on this 16th December should’ve been the maintenance of a distance from all the noise and fuss which reigns here. But it was foolish to expect that the usual would be avoided on a day of such grave and grim character.
From “virtual documentaries” on the APS attack, GEO’s anchors distastefully donning APS uniforms as some sort of costumes, to playing instrumental variations of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful Life’ as the background to coverage of the bereaved families’ grief; the media coverage, exceptions apart, was crass and infuriating.
Similarly, posters and advertisements of ChenOne brazenly “saluting” the APS children while promoting its “Mid-Season 50% Sale” appeared in large numbers all over DHA Lahore. As if advertising a mid-season sale during the month with reference to a ghastly tragedy of the same month at the same place was some an entirely sensible and sensitive move, which could only be read as: “Hey, we honor the memory and now that you have noticed this advertisement, hey, we also have a sale this month!”
Moreover, what was observed as the commemoration was also an overly-nationalistic and militaristic pomp and show about which Umair Javed tweeted, “Instead of sombre mourning, guilt and reflection on the senseless violence we’ve turned 16th December into a display of chauvinistic nationalism.”
Further down the line of all that was disconcerting and dismaying on the first anniversary of the Peshawar attacks were a set of narratives that were being constantly reinforced and parroted, particularly of resilience and sacrifice.
To reiterate something I have often said, it is a penchant of ours to present our temporary outrage, temporary outpouring of grief and temporary empathy in the glossy garb of ‘resilience’. And once again, this 16th, many proudly proclaimed just how “resilient” Pakistan has been after the Peshawar attacks, how “resilient” this nation is; without any thought for the parents and families who are still grieving and will forever grieve; without any thought for these families who have been knocking at every door, every day for a year, for their demand of a judicial inquiry into the massacre of their children.
And perhaps resilience is the last of what we need after the Peshawar Attack. What we need is unequivocal and lasting rage in the face of terrorism and extremism and every shape and form of it. Let us not be resilient for once. Let us remember and grieve for those taken from us in Peshawar not just every 16th December but every day and forever.
The second narrative was of the 144 lost in Peshawar being a sacrifice; portraying the children’s death as some sort of glorious ‘sacrifice’ rendered in the name of the nation and country. This is nothing but a crass narrative constructed to give the tragedy an ennobling tint other; obscuring its stark reality so that our eyes are shielded from seeing it for what it was: a senseless, violent, cold, calculated shedding of blood. A sacrifice is a conscious and voluntary decision, not the inhumane usurpation of innocent lives that were never given a chance to even begin or blossom. No parent sends his or her children to school as some sacrifice, no parent sends his or her child to school only to never see him again. As one mother put it, “People say I should be proud because my son is a martyr, would any mother willingly trade places with me so she could feel this ‘pride’?” What happened in Peshawar was no sacrifice, and it was nothing to which the slightest sentiment of pride could be associated. To call the killing of our children as a ‘sacrifice’ is a shameless and insensitive trivialization of the tragedy.
A social-media post by Maham Nasir sharply denounced the disgraceful discourse:
“Stop trivialising the APS tragedy by calling it a sacrifice. It was not a sacrifice. No parents choose to send their children to school so they can make a sacrifice. Don’t tell the parents of the victims to be proud of the ‘sacrifice’ their child made. It wasn’t a sacrifice, it was a carnage. Stop handing out medals to the ‘proud’ parents. No parent feels pride in their child getting murdered at school. It wasn’t a sacrifice, it was much more than that.”
Lastly, there was of course, the hate against Malala which can best be described as rabid since not even the 16th of December, and the respect it warrants for the day, was spared, but actually disgustingly used in a way that is insulting to the 144 too, to sling mud against her.
It is pity that had Malala never survived after being shot, she would have been venerated by everyone. Her fault is to have survived and most of all, be globally admired for her courage and determination. Yet it is incredible how a child, a teenager can evoke such hate and outrage without having done anything to tarnish Pakistan; but those who shot at her and their ilk have not been able to evoke even a fraction of that anger and infuriation.
It is an absolute shame how 16th December was observed this year; through a conversion of commemoration to a spectacle that was made about everything but the lives lost, the inconsolable loss inflicted on Pakistan and the families, and the solemn, sober and honest reflection, mourning and remembrance the day demanded.
To the 144, we failed you again.