We are no strangers to insecurity. Everyday in Pakistan we are reminded of our mortality, in some parts of the country more than others, where the idea of a good day means only ten deaths in the city that day. The fear of terrible things happening to ourselves or loved ones is a permanent resident in our conscious mind.
So when horrific incidents take place in other countries, some of us tend to get a bit smug about the fact that we have been living with that kind of uncertainty and insecurity for a long time. As if it’s some kind of competition, something to take pride in, as if we had discovered peanut butter long before the rest of the world or something.
As I scrolled down my newsfeed in the first couple of days after the recent Paris attacks, it was split between two kinds of reactions. On one hand were fellow Pakistanis asking why tragedies in our part of the world go unnoticed by the Western media. Why is Paris so shocking when a large part of the world has been witnessing similar atrocities on a near-constant basis for a long time, they shouted with their keyboards.
On the other hand were posts from people in the rest of the world expressing shock, horror and outrage, the obvious and normal reaction to such an incident. Mothers wrote emotional responses, expressing worries about how they would explain the incident to their children. How they are now confronted with new fears about their children’s safety. That they don’t know how to prepare their children for a world full of such horrors and atrocities. How they don’t think they will be able to bring any more children into such a dark, ugly, scary world.
As more of worried mummy posts showed up on my timeline, I couldn’t help but wonder at their insularity. Have these people been hiding under a rock for so long? Had they really not been noticing the direction in which the world was heading?
But maybe I was actually envious of them, that these people had been untouched by violence up till now. They had so far been free of the constant nagging fear which has been our companion for long.
The worries are the same though, theirs and mine and of mothers everywhere. Our kids have been born into a world full of hate, unlike us who had been blissfully unaware of such thing when we were growing up. I too worry about how I will explain all that is wrong with the world to my son when the time comes. I worry about the terrible world he will be growing up in. I worry about how nowhere really is safe.
But there’s another dimension to my fear too. Growing up as a Muslim hasn’t been harder for children than it is in today’s world.
How do you explain to a child that our beliefs as Muslims are diametrically opposed to those of a hateful fringe carrying out the most horrific acts in the name of the same religion. To Muslims like us, those crazed psychotic creatures are the devil incarnate, yet the rest of the world insists on lumping us together. I get bewildered when the media, and by extension many people who clearly haven’t studied the religion at all or done so without setting aside their preconceived notions, insist that those beasts are undeniably following the “correct” version of Islam. Things I had never heard of, even with all the crazies and zealots running amok in Pakistan, are apparently a compulsory part of our belief system, or so these “experts” on our faith insist.
How do you explain all that to a child? But perhaps I shouldn’t underestimate the intelligence of children. It will be tricky, but they will get it. One can only hope.
I wonder what growing up with his Muslim and Pakistani identity will mean for my son in an increasingly racist and xenophobic world. How will he react when he’s old enough to understand when a staggering drunk likely on benefits yells “Piss off from here” to his parents in the middle of a busy street? Or worse, if he is the target of such verbal or physical abuse himself.
While I find it easy to ignore or laugh off ignorant remarks from society’s scum, kids take such things much harder. I’m already worried about the challenge of teaching him to ignore bigots and bullies and to stand up for himself from an early age, and of inculcating the self-assurance necessary to survive the hostility he is likely to face.
Will he be dealing with hate and victimisation as soon as he starts school? Will he be bullied because of his background by school mates, by teachers, by kids on the playground? How soon will he have to start explaining to people that we aren’t “that” kind of Muslims? How does a child even explain all that anyway? Will he be embarrassed of his identity and feel compelled to deny his Muslim background just to fit in with his peers?
It seems like a really hard burden for these little shoulders to carry. Children like mine will surely have their innocence snatched away from them much earlier than it should happen. Here’s hoping that being born in such an ugly world, they will have much more resilience and strength than I’m giving them credit for, to take on the inevitable challenges that their identity poses for them.