Schools open today, and there are few parents amongst us who have not got a knot of anxiety in their stomachs about it. There is nothing more I could write about the unspeakable horror and tragedy of last month’s Peshawar attack that hasn’t been already written, but I have read stories being collected by people I know, accounts from the parents who lost children that day, who keep saying they will send their other children back. I keep thinking of Malala Yousafzai’s mother, who cries every time the murderous attack on her only daughter is mentioned by journalists. I think of my friends, my family, myself. Nobody wants their child to be Malala. It is too high a price to pay. And yet here we all are, packing pencil cases and lunchboxes, wrapping up our children warmly as we set off on these frosty mornings to take them to school.

There is a sniper on the school roof. There is barbed wire. There are personal guards who hover as children are shepherded inside through metal detectors that bleep loudly, set off by belt buckles and hair clips and thermoses. Peshawar echoes in all our minds, thumping sickly around our hearts. Our lives in this country have become a series of perpetual choices that are increasingly impossible to make. You want to keep your children safe, in front of your eyes, at home. But that isn’t their life. It isn’t the life they should have. They are meant to go to school, to learn, to ask questions, to chatter with their friends and eat greasy chips from the canteen and find marbles in the dust on the playground. They are supposed to be children, and all that means: carefree, happy, safe. Above all, safe.

The kidnapping Pathan is supposed to be a silly myth, the police in the chorr-police games the good guys. The worst thing that happens when you’re a child is that your ice lolly collapses onto the ground halfway through eating it. But we have to answer the hard questions. We have to explain to our little ones that there are real bad guys out there. That they must never, ever go home with anyone else but you after school, or talk to strangers, or wander out of the gate and onto the road alone looking for the ice cream wallah. You have to explain why there is a man with a gun outside school, outside the house, outside the shops. And you have to do it with a lightness, a cheery, hollow brightness that you hope masks your own worries and fears. “It’s all right”, you say to their small trusting faces. “It’s good to be careful.”

I know there are other places worse off than us. I know I cannot compare my small life and its concerns with a Palestinian mother or a Syrian mother or even a Swati mother. They live in war zones worse than mine. But we are all under attack. This is what war is, and we face the truest horror of all: the slaughter of innocents. Herod ordered the mass slaughter of all male children under two in Bethlehem when he was told of the prophecy of his downfall at the hands of a man from the city. That man was Jesus. The greatest tragedy of this all is that the terrorists that perpetrate these attacks all over the world are doing it in the name of Allah, in thrall to what they think is religion. With every attack they blight more lives. More mosques are torched by mobs. More Muslims are attacked in streets abroad, and ironically the ones who wear their religion outwardly—the ones with the beards and the hijabs—are the ones targeted the most. The so-called infidels, with their heads uncovered, wearing trousers, are the ones who blend in. Who gets punished for the crimes of the few? The pious ones. The ones who go to mosques to pray. Who cover their heads in cultures that are hostile to the gesture. And us, who get up every day and send our children back to school. Who go to work and pull this economy along, the doctors and lawyers, the stay-at-home mothers, the polio workers. We keep saying never forget. The savages who mangle our religion and kill schoolchildren should remember that it all began with one word: read. And every parent here that is sending their child to school and who is going back to their own classrooms to teach in spite, despite of 12/16, is upholding that first command. If this is war, then we will fight with the only true weapon we have: knowledge. If this is our jihad, then may Allah give us courage to speak the truth, to be as brave as our Prophet was, alone in a cave on a dark mountain, being told to read in the name of his Lord. We are in our darkest hour, and if knowledge is what brought light to Mohammad (PBUH), then there is undoubtedly hope for us.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.