Publius Flavius cautioned us to prepare for war at a time of peace. The attack on the Army Public School on December 16, 2014, is perhaps war for us as a daily presence, but how prepared are we against the thinking that perpetrates violence against children?
Terrorists murdered 144 of Pakistan’s young children, one of them, a little girl, and we felt its reverberations into every aspect of our lives. The state awakened from its slumber and was forced to turn towards the menace of extremism that thrived in its recesses. The army fixed its compass and waged war on the Taliban. Parents perhaps never ever forget the APS attack every time they drop their kids to school in the morning. Children woke up with nightmares. No amount of regurgitating its harrows can help catharsis the pain. The real fear, however, is that these assaults on our children catch on.
Nowhere in the world have there been more attacks on schoolchildren than in the US. Researcher and avid writer Malcom Gladwell references Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter’s research on individual behaviour during riots. In the research, Granovetter talks of this concept called the threshold — the automatic ability of people in the madding crowd to be violent after the first psychopath makes the initial violent move, followed by others, one after the other. He talks of the referencing that goes on among even the most benign people to act out in violence because the cultural narrative of the time defines shocking violence against the weakest and most vulnerable. Since Sandy Hook’s 2012 attack on elementary school children, there have been over a hundred and forty school shootings in the US.
If this is true, then we have every reason to awaken; continue the war on the enemy; obsess over that fateful day and to wake up in a sweaty nightmarish state. If this is true, we must also realise that it makes all the sense to work tirelessly to stop that next attack, which the APS attack is likely to sadistically inspire. We must certainly not apply the adhocism that Pakistan uses as a policy on the issue of our children’s safety and protection. To date, schools around Pakistan do not have the security measures that require it to make it unbreachable by possible terrorists.
Suppose for a moment that it is not only about building physical walls between our children and terrorists, then the challenge is even more expansive. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), a few months ago, released a music video with the theme of taking measured revenge from the enemy by educating their children. The message being imparted in the video is well meant but only partially accurate. There needs to be a concerted review of the content that our own children (not just the children of terrorists) are being taught in schools.
As a country that revised its school’s curriculum in the 70s, on the lines of religious indoctrination — schools and madrassas both are jihadist factories — we have done nothing to toss out the garbage of self-righteousness. This is cannon fodder for the killers of our children who are erroneously thought to be from among psychopaths, but in fact are from among our own milieu. The video should have demanded a revision of our own children’s school curriculum where only one specific brand of Muslims deserve to live.
Malcom Gladwell says, invariably, the form of these ‘riots’ or instances of violence become more and more self-referential and more ritualised. What I would like to press is that we are a cesspool of possible violators whose threshold factors are very low. Our own schools produce the thinking that de-emphasises human values and inclusion.
The country has no capacity to face another APS-like blow to its diaphragm. We have not only lost investments, we have also had a considerable amount of brain drain and fleeing of expats after that attack. All this takes our country back, several years; restricts our influence, both geopolitical and national, and also intellectually stiffens our thinkers and opinion-makers. There are enough of these in the media, particularly the Urdu press, that have used the APS attack as an opportunity to play on the fears of Pakistan’s people — warning them of a doomsday scenario unless they become more exclusivist and inward.
For now, we need to relook at our children’s books, if we want to put an end to the increasing threshold of violence.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2016.