This piece was published in the Huffington Post religion section on December 18th, 2014.
It’s every parents worst nightmare. A group of gunmen enter the school and just begin shooting. School, which is such a privilege in Peshawar, is supposed to be a safe haven for the information-thirsty youth to drink from the well of knowledge. Rather, by the day’s end, 132 students and nine teachers lost their lives. We are outraged by this atrocious act of inhumanity.
For us at World Faith, these stories are far too close to home. World Faith Pakistan, led by Interfaith Youth in Action, is only some 250 miles away. Some of our volunteers and leaders hail from the region around Peshawar, and had the heart-dropping challenge of calling family members to ensure everyone was safe. Just yesterday they organized a vigil to commemorate the lives so tragically lost.
And yet, while we are shocked and outraged, our hearts break more than our minds boggle. In Pakistan alone, some 1,000 schools have been bombed or burnt down, and the tragic attack and resilient heroism of Malala Yousafzai is but a recent memory. But attacks on children and the schools they attend are not new nor limited to Pakistan. Boko Haram militants in Nigeria have attacked schools, including as recently as February, in which 59 students died. In Beslan, Russia, nearly 200 children died after siege by Chechen separatists in 2004. The tactic can be traced back even to the 1700’s and likely was used before. It raises the question: Why?
While we can’t grasp the motivations of all these murderous mad men, we can deduce from their actions. These heinous criminals fear the pen more than the sword. Education, from basic literacy to professional training, gives young people a real chance to live a better life than their parents. New doors will be open, and a true sense of wonderment and awe is bestowed on those who begin to see their real potential. This may sound abstract and wishful, but at a World Faith school in a Delhi slum, I met an 8-year-old boy who told me he wanted to be a doctor when he grows up. These are real dreams, with profound potential.
And this is the source of the threat. Literate people can read their holy books, newspapers, and textbooks, and find out the world is big, complex, and full of people who aren’t so different. Educated people recognize nuance, and are less likely to be caught up in black-and-white, zero-sum simplifications of conflict. Knowledgeable people are hopeful, and can imagine themselves making a real impact that does not include a detonator. These agents of terror are themselves terrified by the power of education.
This is why they attack schools and the children that attend them. They cut down those who will rise above them. They also seek to sow fear into the hearts of the living, that a day in school may be their last. It is not an act of power, but a manifestation of fear. And in these travesties, we have found their weakness. They have revealed their Achilles heel, their Kryptonite, and now we must exploit it.
More than bombs and bullets, building schools should be our offense. Forget “enhanced interrogation” and predator drones, we can break their backs with the books, these doorways to knowledge, page by page. I’m not advocating for pure pacifism, but I can say with the utmost confidence that no strategy to vanquish these monsters will be complete without investing in education for the generation coming of age. Schools will rob them of recruits, and build a generation who knows better, dreams bigger, and can’t be beaten by bullets and bombs.
So let’s challenge ourselves together to counter this atrocity. Find a way to support education, whether locally or globally. Tutor, mentor, donate, educate, and raise your children to value an investment in their own minds. Find a way to be a multiplier. I can imagine no better way to commemorate the lives lost than with this. I pray that you can spend these holidays with your family, and reflect on the privileges we so often taken for granted. Be well.
If this message resonates with you, please like and share it from the Huffington Post website. For more information on the response of IYA/World Faith Pakistan, read this account by Director Shahid Ghouri Rehmat. To support World Faith’s education initiatives in Pakistan and beyond, you can donate here.