We here at C.A.A.C.A. would like to step outside our satiric format to express our utmost condolences to the families of the 145 people-132 of them schoolchildren, murdered in Pakistan on Tuesday, Dec 16. Words can never express the sorrow that we share with the families and survivors.
One of the many things this blog seeks to satirize is the way that certain people use words. Words have meaning, and when we stray from that meaning or engage in twisting those words to mean what we want at the moment, in our attempts to argue, to understand, or to seek solutions, we all-too-often go astray. What happened at the Army Public School and Degree College was not a tragedy. A tragedy is when tidal waves kills thousands, when an earthquake ravages cities, when impersonal forces take human lives. When human beings kill other human beings, it is not a tragedy; it is a crime.
If we allow ourselves to look at the loss of life at the hands of the Taliban in Peshawar as a senseless tragedy, we have already begun to dehumanize the victims. We have also already begun the process of failing to understand why such a crime could take place. The Taliban did what it did for political and human reasons, yes. They have a desire for power and resources and a thirst for revenge. But you also have to ask: why does this group believe that it deserves to become the ruling power; that their views are correct and good and the current rulers are wrong–so wrong, in fact, that violence against anyone and everyone is justified in seeking to take over–in Pakistan or anywhere else for that matter?
I have always found it helpful, when trying to figure out something, to keep asking “why?” until one can no longer ask it and come up with an answer; a kind of “walking the dog back” if you will, to borrow a bit of espionage/interrogation terminology. When you do so with conflicts that have a religious element, depressingly often the last “why?” question has the answer, “because of the person/group’s religion”. The politics and power and wealth usually occur in the middle, not the end, of the questioning.
In the case of the Taliban, the last “why?” answer is of course, because they feel that they have a superior religion than the current ruling powers, and that this mandates them to seize power and resources so that it can impose that superior religion on others. It isn’t the current leader’s politics the Taliban is against, except where it conflicts with their version of Islam. They seek influence and resources, but as a means to an end; spreading the ‘correct’ faith. Should some of them get power and wealth and other human desires all the better, but that’s the underlying goal of just about everything humans do. That’s not enough to excuse the influence of religion on their actions, and it’s just an attempt to pass the buck and conflate underlying motives with the true driving force of a conflict.
Far too often, apologists hand-wave away the role of religion in our conflicts and wars as “just an excuse” or an “unimportant element” that people with no knowledge of ‘nuance’ or ‘complexity’ use to justify their distrust or dislike of religion. The truth is that while there are of course multiple factors that make up any large-scale conflict, religion is an indispensable element in those conflicts and often the most important one. It is far past time we began to treat it as such instead of using weasel-words and cop-outs to make excuses for violent religious leaders and the followers that enable them. Without an honest assessment of the role that religion plays in conflicts, wars, massacres and oppression; both historically and in the world today, the longer we remain in the dark when trying to find a way to reduce the tensions that make today’s world such a powder keg of tension and violence.
The Taliban and groups like Boko Haram (who kidnapped 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria recently and are the likely suspects in the kidnapping of 100 more this past Sunday) makes it its business to go after schools and schoolchildren for a reason. It knows that the children in those facilities will grow to be their downfall if left unchecked. It is because they will have something that the fundamentalists fear the most–a well-rounded secular education.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I don’t advocate trying to “stamp out” religion (I take the ridicule it/talk openly about it approach, if this blog is any indication), but the world must stand up and protect these educational institutions, in Pakistan and elsewhere. It must also come together to protect the rights of children, women and dissident thinkers and Freethought advocates, and they need to do it even when doing so overrides religious protests or sensibilities. If military muscle must be used, use it to properly guard these institutions. In any case, we desperately need to begin thinking more in non-military terms, and supporting the work of people like Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (and the survivor of a vicious Taliban attack) and her co-reciepient, Kailash Satyarthi who actively campaigns for the rights of children world-wide, instead of handing guns to wackos in the vain hopes that they kill the wackos that we don’t like.
A list of the victim’s of the massacre in Pakistan is still being compiled. If it is released online, I will post it here. In the meantime, here is a link to a Huff-Post article about the list and the portraits of 21 of those who died, from a Pennsylvania Herald-Standard article, which I have also provided a link for. Their faces deserve to be seen.
UPDATE: I have still been unable to locate an official list of those killed in the massacre (if someone knows of it, please pass a link along), but the death toll has risen–how high is hard to judge, because papers are reporting different numbers ranging from 146 to as high as 162 people.
If there was ever any doubt that the Taliban in Pakistan was deliberately targeting the children, that doubt was laid to rest when security officials discovered a ‘hitlist’—a prepared list of the sons of army officers telling the terrorists who to concentrate on.
In an e-mailed statement, the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) said, “More than 50 sons of important army officers were killed after being identified. The auditorium where students in secondary and higher secondary sections were being taught first aid was targeted.”
Sadly, the massacre is already having the same kind of effect in Pakistan that 9/11 had upon America. Officials used the massacre as an excuse to lift a moratorium on the death penalty (in the case of terrorists) and further abrupt shifts to the Right (a common reactionary trend when crimes of this magnitude are carried out by enemies of the State) and military escalations are the order of the day. While I’m all for bringing the perpetrators and their group to justice, I dared to hope that more progressive solutions would at least be sought out, but Pakistan appears to be out for revenge and blood; the same motivation that brought the Taliban to the Army Public School and Degree College in the first place.