There are two kinds of teachers in the world. Whether we agree or not, both are enablers of the future. On the one end we have those who spew hatred in their schools, through their videos and lectures, through their literature and on TV, who unconditionally support those who are out to shred the last thread in the fabric of peace and humanity. They have a certain future for humanity in mind. Then, there are those who are ready to take any blows, including the burning of their flesh, to save the pupils they mentor. Little did the perpetrators of the unspeakable violence in Peshawar know that our defence lines are not just made up of soldiers in uniform at the forefront, but that we also have Tahira Qazi and Afshan Ahmad in our midst, who are as brave as they come.
It is now our choice and we must decide which of the two kinds of teachers we want in our society. The choice is not just about who gets to teach our own kids in urban centres and private schools. It is about who gets to teach, period. All children are precious and innocent, regardless of the sins of their parents. They deserve to be taught the importance of creativity, thought and inquiry and need to be loved, cared for and taught with grace, dignity and kindness, regardless of what their parents and their neighbours stand for.
The anger, grief and unspeakable numbness in our emotions has brought the nation together for the first time in our lifetimes. Too late, and at too high a cost. Nonetheless, at long last there is a narrative of decisive action. This narrative of a final battle, in its essence, is about a better future. We have to agree that we cannot afford to live like this anymore. We want and demand a better tomorrow. But the narrative of a better tomorrow is incomplete if it is only about getting rid of the enemy. We cannot stop at dismantling the infrastructure of hate and violence, our narrative has to include the construction of institutions that nurture peace and hope. Institutions that build a nation, not ones that are paid to find divisions. Any surgical action needs to accompany means to expedite healing and long-term recovery. Else our actions will lead to a terminal metastasis of our social ills.
The civil society needs to move from Facebook and Twitter activism to real action with pressure on the provincial and federal governments to build institutions. Diversion of funds from education to build metros should no longer be acceptable. We need to make sure that IDPs are not stranded to be influenced by custodians of hate. We have to bring them to schools that are built on the foundations of integration, fairness and tolerance. The tragedy in Peshawar has given us an opportunity to put pressure on the government for real curriculum reform, at all levels, in all schools and in all provinces without exception. Dictation of curriculum by a particular party, religious or otherwise, cannot be accepted any longer. Education experts, and not political leaders with a convoluted and myopic view of the world, should be in charge of the curriculum that builds tolerance, integration and creative thinking. A zero tolerance policy should not be only for those who attack our schools from outside, it should also be implemented for those who poison our brains from within the walls of our institutions of learning.
The teachers at the Army Public School represent the very best of humans. They fought for the highest of causes. They were not just the noble souls with a desire to enlighten the minds, they were ready to pay the ultimate price to save those who are the future of the nation.
They did not give up on the future. Neither can we.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2014.