The cost of silence

Published: December 22, 2014

A boy holds candles during a demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club organised by a local NGO to show solidarity with the unfortunate victims of Peshawar school attack. PHOTO: ONLINE/FILE

The nation is in shock after the events of the Peshawar school attack. Even for a country that has seen its fair share of violence, the tragedy that occurred was unbelievable.

After becoming aware of what had happened, I sat in silence, overcome with grief, contemplating questions such as ‘Why had this happened?’ and ‘Who would do such a thing?’ But it became clear to me that perhaps I was going about it all wrong. I was trying to make sense of a situation that could never make sense.

What reason could ever justify the killing of over a hundred innocent school children? What reason could ever explain the depravity of the perpetrators of this heinous crime against humanity? There are no justifications good enough. There are no explanations good enough.

Those that took part in the violence yesterday were psychopaths. They were scum. They were monsters. And it is high time we wake up to this fact and start recognising them as such.

I know that people are out for blood. It is understandable to want justice for the unbearable loss that we have suffered as a nation. In that vein, the prime minister has lifted the ban on capital punishment for those involved in terror offenses, but I don’t believe that is the answer.

Militants such as the ones responsible for the attack have no fear of death because in their twisted mind they are setting out to attain martyrdom. Thus, capital punishment will not be an effective deterrent.

The only way to deal with such stains on humanity is to lock them up and throw away the key.

Let them rot for the rest of their lives in a filthy cell so that they can reflect upon their actions. Let them grow old in solitude and be reminded every single day that they are nothing more than murderers of innocents, murderers of children; that there is no paradise awaiting them, only hellfire.

On the other hand, the question that we should all be asking ourselves is – how do we prevent this situation from ever happening again?

Military action against all terrorist outfits in the country might be one piece of the solution. But even if we wipe each and every one of them out, as many are demanding, unless the root cause is addressed, more will just take their place.

Imran Khan has become an easy target due to his earlier stance of negotiating with the Taliban. Whilst his approach might have been too idealistic or naïve, he was not the bad guy people are hell bent on painting him to be. Imran’s logic was that the Taliban are made up of several different factions, each with differing aims and grievances. He wanted to hold talks in order to differentiate between those that could be talked into laying down their arms, from those that were just looking to cause carnage. After all, military option should be the last resort, not the go to option.

Did he insist on holding talks longer than he should have, despite mounting evidence of the futility of such an exercise?


But once the government launched the military option, he gave it his full backing, and he came out and even condemned the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by name after this incident. There are several other prominent politicians yet to do so.

In ending the protests to present a united front against the extremists, even his harshest critics have come out to praise him for making a selfless decision for the betterment of the country.

In the past, Imran has been accused of making statements that give the perception of justifying some of the actions of the militants. I sincerely hope that he realises how erroneous that was and watches his words more carefully going forward.

There is a saying that actions speaks louder than words. That might be true, but words also matter; they can shape our thoughts, our beliefs and our actions. Words have consequences.

We, as a nation, are complicit in our inaction against those who incite hatred. We are a nation that has allowed convicted killers to be lionised. They have been treated as heroes in jails, with guards sitting in awe listening to them preach.

No more. There can be no effective change unless our whole society bands together and proclaims that we will no longer tolerate any apologists for those who carry out violence and those who seek to instil the seeds of discord or disharmony.

Were we really that naïve to think that allowing people to target and demonise minorities would also not lead to terrible consequences for ourselves?

As Hillary Clinton said,

“You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually, those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in their backyard.”

If you have a friend that spouts conspiracy theories, blaming Hindus or Jews instead of the Taliban, speak up against him. If during the Friday sermon, your local Imam does not condemn these militants and instead prays for their success, speak up against him. If you see people posting anti-Malala content and falsely accusing her of being a CIA agent, speak up against them. Just whatever you do, do not remain silent. The sensible ones amongst us have remained silent for too long.

If we are to have any meaningful change, there needs to be a systematic revamp of the way things are.

All madrassas and seminaries must be issued strict guidelines and rules about what can be taught there. Their sources of funding should be heavily scrutinised and their operations should be brought under government oversight.

All mosques should be licensed by the government. Appointments of Imams should only take place after a thorough background check.

The curriculum and syllabus of public and private schools should be reviewed. Any text that unfairly portrays minorities in a negative light or justifies any violence should be immediately removed.

We need to educate our children in love, empathy and compassion. If our generation cannot be changed, at least the next might be better.

We need to train ourselves to deal with frustration and conflict without always resorting to violence. Anything that makes us angry tends to lead to riots in the streets, with damage to property and loss of life. Has that ever really resolved anything?

Media channels should be banned from giving a platform to clerics of hate or to their apologists. There needs to be strict legislation in place to ensure that they comply. Anyone guilty of hate speech should be prosecuted and jailed. People far braver than I have argued over the merits of the blasphemy law, but what we could do is ensure that anyone found guilty of making a false accusation is severely punished and made an example of, so that no one ever thinks about abusing it.

Obviously, these are not easy tasks to implement, and the road ahead is going to be a long and difficult one. But we have to start somewhere. The cost of us doing nothing, of things remaining the same, is far too great.

Mani Khawaja

Mani Khawaja

A journalist and musician. He tweets @manikhawaja88 (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • wb

    “People far braver than I have argued over the merits of the blasphemy law,
    but what we could do is ensure that anyone found guilty of making a
    false accusation is severely punished and made an example of, so that no
    one ever thinks about abusing it.”

    There simply is no merit to blasphemy law.

    Blasphemy law is anti-Quran, anti-Hadees, anti-Islam and hence anti-Pakistan.

    I haven’t read Sunnah. If there’s anything supporting blasphemy in Sunnah please let me know.Recommend

  • wb

    And I have to confess.

    I have seen a sea change in the attitudes of ordinary Pakistanis in the last week. Many have come to understand what their real problem is.

    Even though your ex military and some paid media blamed India for Peshawar attacks, many have denied such conspiracy theories.

    Previously, 8/10 comments on such incidences used to blame India.

    Now, I only see some 4 out of 10.

    Hope this change is permanent and not transient.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Most of this was quite good……but let me say that I was a vocal supporter of Imran Khan / PTI. The Peshawar incident was a major test case for him to prove his leadership abilities…..and HE FAILED MISERABLY. He became invisible so as to say this is something for someone else to attend to. This was his opportunity and he blew it.
    A leader anticipates and ACTS….he does not wait and then REACT…..sorry if I hurt the feelings of some….but then my feelings have also been hurt.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Don’t be sorry for having a valuable opinion. Recommend

  • Manik

    To be fair, whilst I totally see where you are coming from, taking into account Jibran Nasir’s proactive role, I personally would give Imran Khan the benefit of the doubt.
    He has been visiting the families, providing comfort, holding cabinet meetings, PTI has released a 20 point anti terror plan etc. If he was at the forefront, people would say he is hogging the limelight. He has been very busy in this regard, but in the background.
    At this time, the onus was on the government and the army to do what they are there for.
    But yes, a more vocal approach would have been ideal. Jibran has my respect.Recommend

  • abu1916

    Surgical strikes on India is the answerRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I am really glad that blogs like this are being written. At last people are realizing that hate preaching and general extremism is the root of this evilRecommend

  • Parvez

    Naila, I was feel really low…….so thank you for that.Recommend

  • Ahmed
  • jssidhoo

    Pakistan is paying the price for not understanding the difference between a soldier and a terrorist . When the job is done a soldier goes back to his barracks whereas a terrorist after the job is done gets so used to power that he is not ready to go back to farming but demands the same power and when not given power he extracts it the way he has been taught . The terrorists now want political power .Recommend

  • wb

    Regarding the quote from Quran, it has got nothing to do with blasphemy. It word used is waging war. Waging war is neither insult, nor blasphemy.

    Regarding Hadees,

    Nice. So, I stand corrected.

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    the verse you quoted does not even have the word blasphemy in it. I have read the entire holy quran but there is no mention of blasphemy in it. I hereby challenge you to find me the word blasphemy or blasphemer in the Holy Quran.Recommend

  • Gaad

    I agree with you Mr. Parvez.

    Although Imran Khan lifted his DHARNA but now all his leadership (imran, Qureshi, Omar Asad, Tarin etc) have gone quiet with no peace marches, no organized protests etc against TTP. The same people were spending millions daily and costing the nation billions weekly because they wanted 4 election results examined.

    Now when the nation really needs a new player in the whole strategic situation so that the views of the nation should be clearly expressed and represented and implemented, PTI and Co. has gone into hibernation. MR. Imran Khan Niazi, should ask his party and TUQs party and MQM to come out and start million man marches in every city to put pressure on both civil and military to come out of this facade of committees and sub-committees and start acting in the name of the PAKISTANI NATION. We need swift and decisive action. We don’t need government’s delaying tactics on this issue. If PTI doesn’t do it then in the legal sense they will also be ACCESSORY TO THE ACT (meaning accessory to the act of delaying action against TTP and the arrested terrorists). PTI has not even lent official support to the peaceful protestors outside Lal Masjid, while TTP has already started threatening Mr. Jibran personally. I am singling out PTI here because they were supposed to be the beacon of hope for the NEW PAKISTAN. The rest are already tried and tested.

    The atrocity was committed on 16th and its already 23rd Dec. There is no national emergency being observed, no mobilization, not even a sense of urgency seems to be there. Weekends are being observed, manuals are being referred to, bureaucratic hurdles are being cited, and letters are being exchanged between departments. Icing on the cake – the inclusion of Mr. Ijaz ul Haque of the one man party PMLZ in the govt. committee, who is a self professed supporter and sympathizer of late Maulvi Ghazi and Maulvi Abdul Aziz. What portion of the Pakistani electorate does PMLZ represents? As far as I know, not a single member of religious minorities is present in the ‘committee’ to voice their opinions when they are one of the most affected parties of this conflict. WOW! I feel like Alice in the Wonderland.Recommend

  • Parvez

    After a horrific incident like Peshawar the government MUST act, not form committees. Lets be honest Imran Khan’s reaction was too slow and by him agreeing to a committee ( meaning nothing will happen ) he was out manoeuvred by the likes of Nawaz………on Gibran you are spot on.Recommend

  • wb

    It doesn’t matter. It is proven now that blasphemy is punishable by death, according to the prophet himself.

    As is evident in the Hadees.Recommend

  • Jasvinder Singh Marwaha

    Why not give it a try? What if India strikes back? You have forgotten 1971 and Kargil- not to mention earlier wars.Recommend

  • J.P. Sharma

    Shockingly, Pakistan [read Military] hasn’t learnt the lesson that was expected. It may kill those responsible for this ghastly killings of innocent students, but would be comfortable with likes Jammat UL Dawa types until they to commit the same kind of killings.Recommend

  • Parvez

    You said it ……. loud and clear. Liked the bit about Ejaz ul Haq.Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    Here he is a hindu troll suffering from 1200 years of
    foreign …er…Muslim rule.Recommend

  • Hoshang Ansari

    This is a man known as U-turn Khan. Jemima’s Husband Khan.
    Taliban Khan. Office for TTP Khan. ‘Hamara Bhai Haey’ KhanRecommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    Well ,…guess hallucinogens are still legal in hindustan.
    You need to stand in D Chowk in Islamabad and spout
    your sermons. the mullahs will take of you.Recommend

  • Sara

    Imran Khan is an easy target only because of the number of times he has failed to openly condemn TTP-led atrocities. His reluctance to criticize the TTP has obviously not gone unnoticed, however blind we may be as a nation. It takes a lot of guts to opt for the road less traveled, which Mr. Khan seemed to lack until very recently. Unfortunately, bravery is not merely confined to gathering hoards of individuals to hurl speeches at, or holding rallies/dharnas (something that Mr. Khan is evidently exceptional at).Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    he is trolling. You just wasted your time feeding the troll. He has 3/4 accounts. ab1990, abu1916 and a couple of others. He only posts troll posts.Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    Need concocted hindutva info on anything related
    to Muslims? Contact the Hindu Hajji ‘wb’ through
    the pages of E T.Recommend

  • Jamrud Khan Mohmandkhe

    You are a Hindu Gullu Butt. Nothing else.Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    Look at this hindu mehtar’s fervor ! Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    The hindu hindutva from hindustan.
    Also known as mulla ‘wb’ from the
    side of Banaras….er..Veranasi? Wherearenazis?Recommend

  • wb

    Is that what your teachers teach you?

    That you win an argument by calling names?Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    Argument? Debate? Where? From a hindu stalker
    on these ET blogs. Spewing double doses of anti
    Muslim, Islam diatribes ! From a website hindu troll.
    Nah, ….there is no debate here. Invoking teachers!
    Just a Pak hating troll.Recommend

  • abu1916

    Troll? Yeah Mr. “Gladiator”, may be you are some kind of an expert on all. I was just making a point on how it feels when you are in pain of loosing loved ones and immediately blame some one without rhyme or reason. When people die in front of your eyes, there is uncontrollable grief that overwhelms you. It is not the mature way to blame someone without proper basis. Unfortunately, statement that I have made were the first response when an incident like Peshawar happened in our neighborhood. See a gentleman replied by quoting history that people were killed in the past. It was not to enrage anyone but to make a point clear that it is not a Pakistani or an Indian that is dead, but a human being just like us. We should prevent the loss of life. After all we may be divided by boundaries, but we all share the same planet. As far as me having 3/4 accounts, I have a responsibility of putting bread on the table, not to “troll” with 3/4 accounts. It would seem sensible that you wouldn’t jump the gun with just your theories. Well wanted it off my chest, would be my least consideration if you would understand my point of view. Hey, according to you, I AM TROLLING.Recommend

  • abu1916

    sir, this statement was not made to kill more people. this was just a stark reminder on how people on both sides of the border get carried away with emotions during a tragic incident like mumbai or peshawar, these kind of statements were a regular feature from your fellow citizens during one such incident in your country. it is wrong to blame all pakistanis and pakistan. we pakistanis truly condemn killings of innocent humans. we should first make sure that no lives have to be lost in the name of religion or fanaticism. i apologise to you if my comments were hurtful and i sincerely would be more careful in future.Recommend

  • Sol Invictus

    I would just some it up by quoting a superb leader :
    There comes a time when silence is betrayal. (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.)Recommend

  • Prashant

    You forefathers converted and started believing they were not conquered but they were the conquerors, you are making a mockery of yourself.Recommend

  • Hypocrisy?

    “You forefathers converted and started believing they were not conquered but they were the conquerors”
    If his name is true then he is an Afridi, they do belong to the Pashtun tribes who invaded and settled in KPK (and other regions), making him part of the conquerors and not conquered no?….Recommend