Its “wrongs” on both sides

(By Rabia Ahmed) Where’s the difference?

  • Or are we the same?

For all that they are so viciously against each other, the similarities between right-wing segments of society in Pakistan and the US are extremely similar. As are the issues created by the two. These similarities would be funny if they were not so disturbing, mindless, violent, destructive, a threat to peace everywhere in the world. It would be wise to perceive these similarities and concentrate on our own shortcomings instead of unceasingly pointing to the other.

Five years ago, at the age of fifteen, Malala left this country, forced to do so for reasons that need not be restated. Two years later, at the age of seventeen she became the youngest recipient of the Noble Peace Prize, awarded for her struggle for the right of children to education regardless of gender. Being female and an outspoken one at that, she instantly became one of the most reviled persons in the country of her birth.

Using the prize money, Malala set up a school for girls in her home town in Swat. The parents of the students at this school are haunted by the genuine fear that militant extremists will target the school as they did its founder, and for the same reasons. They have requested the authorities to deploy security services to protect their children.

Governments are elected to serve the people and to protect their interests. Sadly, the interests they end up protecting are most often their own, which is well understand by groups that play on this tendency

Meantime in the US roughly eighteen shootings have occurred on school campuses this year alone. That averages to about three a week. Fear also haunts parents in the US who wonder if their children are safe in school as they have a right to be, but clearly are not. The government including the president, asked to take measures to make schools more secure, responded by suggesting that teachers should be equipped with guns to provide that security. It is a response that puts that country to shame.

In the US, members of groups that refuse to allow controls on weapons are much more often conservative than liberal.

In Pakistan conservatives are invariably involved in terrorist attacks, ‘religious’ extremists who are armed, and support violence in the name of religion.

In many of these cases, the victims are girls/women and education, the two components of society that appear to attract the ire of conservatives most often. Yet women and education more than anything else help promote peace. When education and women are not allowed to thrive as they should, the entire society suffers. This makes extremism and radicalism the enemy of us all.

Extremism and radicalism, wherever you find them, thrive amidst ignorance. In which case it is ignorance that must be targeted from every angle if anything is to change in this country, or anywhere in the world. And those who support radical extremists should be viewed with suspicion wherever they may be. Schools that educate and do not promote violence must be protected and supported in every way.

In Pakistan, security, the right of every citizen appears to be the right of government officials alone. The entourage that follows ministers and other servants of the people has no right to exist. Those resources should instead be involved in protecting the people, and specifically students since in both the US and Pakistan, countries that on the surface appear so disparate, students take their lives into their hands to gain an education.

In different ways and in the absence of action from their governments, the people of both countries are trying to play a role in minimising weapons. In Pakistan there is ‘Citizens Against Weapons’, a group that is pushing for a weapon free Pakistan and demands the ‘complete withdrawal of weapons from every citizen, regardless of rank, status or affiliation,’ a commendable and ambitious effort.

In the US, the latest shooting in a school in Florida led to the death of seventeen students by a fellow student who is said to have used an AR-15 rifle, a semi-automatic weapon made for military use. He was later arrested and confessed. Afterwards students took the matter into their own hands and demanded that the government protect them. They called for a clamp down on access to weapons. Student led demonstrations called ‘March for our Lives’ across the US and in other countries took place in March this year. In the US alone, turnout was around two million, the largest the US has ever seen.

Commendable as they are, and even though they may prevail on the powers that be to take action to some extent, these movements are not likely to get very far, and are likely to be slow to produce results both in the face of government inaction, and the degree of weaponisation in society.

Governments are elected to serve the people and to protect their interests. Sadly, the interests they end up protecting are most often their own, which is well understand by groups that play on this tendency.

It is a shame that students are forced to demand security from the very people who have been entrusted with ensuring it. And no, this is not something that happens just out there in the US, it is happening right here in Pakistan as well. It is time to examine our own failings and realise how closely they resemble those whom we love to condemn, and work to improve this country that was formed at midnight, as Malala said, but has never managed to shake off the darkness enveloping it.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at http://rabia-ahmed.blogspot.com/

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