Bravery in the face of cowardice
Even after all these years, sometimes, in my dreams I find myself in the Swat Valley with waterfalls that look like diamonds falling from the peaks of mountains into emerald lakes.
I see myself and my cousins, walking on a flimsy bridge as it sways perilously over the river Swat, not daring to look down at the mighty river, flowing with the rage and power of a hundred thousand white horses stampeding un-reined.
I see apple orchards and walnut trees. I see children so beautiful, they could be angels. I see beauty.
Only beauty and serenity.
When my daughter asks me what paradise is like, I close my eyes for a second and conjure up images of Swat from my memories and I tell her paradise is more beautiful than any place she can ever imagine.
Sometimes in my dreams I still find myself in Swat valley…
But yesterday, I saw images of Swat that will now forever haunt me. For the last few years, the stories of terror and bloodshed from this paradise I visited as a child reached me, and I even believed those stories and ranted against the invaders to anyone who would listen. But in my dreams, my mind refused to forgo those images of virgin beauty. And when we were told the paradise was won over by the army and the barbarians were run out, I chose to believe that would be the end of those tales of horror.
Then, yesterday I saw a man’s dead body lying in the middle of a main street in Mingora as a lesson for all to see, with his decapitated head on his chest. I saw another man’s body hanging from a tree. I saw men wielding guns, daring to blare Allah’s name from speakers in their vans, invoking terror on the face of an angel-child that passed the street. I saw a blind folded man being shot in the head and falling to the ground as bearded men wearing turbans cheered and raised their guns in celebration.
I saw a woman being held down by two men as the third one gave her a lashing on her back. Her screams will now haunt me. Her screams will now echo in the Swat valley of my dreams.
And then I remembered, I had seen those images before.
I just chose to forget them.
I don’t know why we choose to be in denial. People in my country will tell me from time to time, things are not as bad as you think. People will tell me the media likes to stir up the facts to make them more appealing storylines.
They will even tell me the videos are fake!
They will tell me all is well in the land of the pure and that I should not be afraid. And best yet, they will tell me it is not our war, that our people are being punished because we are fighting someone else’s war. I am not sure how much more blood needs to be shed for us to realise things are as bad as they should ever get.
All I know is that rounds of gun shots being fired in the air alongside screams of Allah-o-Akbar as a celebration to a murder in the guise of justice served in broad day light is as bad as things could ever get. And yet those celebrations are becoming far too frequent.
Sometimes I fear Pakistan will become what Swat has become ─ my paradise lost. It is a place where children are shot in the face, with the warning that if she survives ‘we will strike again’.
As people like you and I sit on our comfy couches and pat ourselves on the back for our activism on Facebook and blogs, and for our heated discussions in air conditioned drawing rooms, there are real life heroes around us, living and dying every day for their cause.
There are children, much like ours, who have seen and experienced horrors we will not know in our entire lifetimes. As we move on yet again, after another story, after yet another rampage we try to erase the images of blood stained streets from our heads and force ourselves to dream again of a land untouched. But in this land that we are losing in our lifetime, while we sit and worry about the rape of our paradise, there are fathers like Ziauddin who are standing unarmed in front of the barbarians fighting for their children’s right to live.
Makes me feel ashamed to be living in the comforts and safety of the US far from the country, I claim to love. I don’t want to move back to ‘my’ country, only because of the safety of my own children. But then whose children are these, the ones we are losing every day, they are the children of ‘my’ Pakistan!
Malala Yousafzai, you are my Pakistan. May you survive and thrive. For only you and your likeness can save my paradise. I am but a hypocrite, wishing you well from the safety of my impenetrable fort while you fight for your land in the middle of the battlefield.
Read more by Tayyaba here.
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