Let’s play a little game here that I was taught in school as part of our language arts class. We would be handed a photograph and asked to analyze it.

Take a look at this picture.

What does the picture say to you? What do you see? A soldier in a war zone? What is the soldier thinking? What are you thinking as you look at his picture?

I’ll tell you what I see.

A soldier. But not in a war zone. In a school in Peshawar where 132 children were butchered by the Taliban to exact vengeance upon Pak Army. I think the soldier is thinking – this can’t be true. This cannot be a school in my country, this cannot be the blood of my children whom I vowed to protect. He’s trying to understand how this could happen. He’s looking at the debris of paper and mortar and bullet holes, staring at the blood splattered all over the walls, the floor and ceiling. Blood. So much blood, it soaks everything. He’s trying to make sense of the enemy’s motives. And he’s not sure of what he’ll do except bring the murderers to justice. I believe that about him. I trust that about him.

What about this picture?

What makes a grown man cry? A school massacre for sure. Who is this man? A father who’s lost a child here? Perhaps, a rescue worker who just couldn’t take in the carnage. Or a reporter who found himself at a loss for words and while he tried to draft the perfect report, take the perfect shot, his eyes kept blurring and he decided to sit down and let it all spill. He’ll deal with the rescuing and the reporting and the photographing when he’s stable, when the pain isn’t so sharp that it stabs the heart.

That reporter might’ve gone back to wherever he came from and found another story to report on but what about this soldier?

Son of the soil. Unlike those foreign reporters and photographers, he isn’t going anywhere. That beneath his feet is not red paint, it is blood. But he isn’t sitting on the floor of a slaughter house. It’s that same school. That is the blood of our children. So much blood. I didn’t know tiny bodies could hold that much blood until I saw it spilled so across the images. What do you think the soldier is thinking? What makes a soldier, who is trained to handle gore, sit at the edge of a pool of blood with his shoulders hunched, staring aimlessly in the other direction?

I hope he’s thinking ‘they’ won’t get away with this. I believe he’s thinking this blood will not be wasted.

After the attack on Charlie Hebdo, France spilled out on the streets. For a dozen adults, entire Europe chanted ‘Je suis Charlie’ and vowed to avenge the lives lost. They declared who their enemy was unanimously. That is how the world will remember their stance against terrorism and that is how the world will remember how they value their citizens. All this for a dozen adults.

I’m still waiting for exactly when we’ll step out with such strength for a hundred of our martyred children.

On the contrary, we are busy defaming anyone who steps forth to unite and educate the Pakistani public on knowing their enemy and never forgetting. For instance, Muhammad Jibran Nasir’s religious beliefs are of utmost importance to us as a nation. His stance against terrorism is all good but first he must be vetted before we can even begin to pay attention to what he is saying, no matter how sensible. He had to come on TV to clarify his beliefs, his religion, and his liberalism, which fiqh he supports and why or why not, even explain his hashtag #ReclaimYourMosques by telling us whether or not he would go pray inside the mosque after he ‘reclaimed’ it.

Maulvi Abdul Aziz, on the other hand, blatantly refused to condemn the Peshawar attack on live TV, his Jamia Hafsa students released a video of them pledging allegiance to ISIS but they all roam free. No questions asked. No vetting necessary. Perhaps, because they are so unconditionally and obviously FOR terrorism.

Similarly, it doesn’t unnerve us a bit that there are ZERO protests against the atrocities of Taliban, neither by the religious frontrunners nor political leaders, in a country that is quick to stand up in protest against any injustice against any Muslim anywhere in the world. The fact that our collective rage, religious and otherwise, is so quickly directed at the West for whatever they do wrong while we easily sweep our own crimes under the carpet is a grotesque red flag for societal decay.

But we don’t care about that.

We do, however, care about why are there vigils being held for the slain kids of APS because vigils are such a western practice. We do care about how the ‘liberals’ are slowly creeping in on us. In fact, it is very important to label anyone badmouthing the terrorists as a ‘liberal’. It’s easier to discredit anything and everything they do that way. God forbid should you join the liberals if you’re a practicing Sunni Muslim who happens to take his/her religion seriously. You’ll be doomed on heaven and earth and everywhere else in between.

We are also very skilled in putting forth damaging counter-narratives. Why Malala, why not Nabila? Why Vigil Brigade, why not Quran Khwani? My question is why not both? Why not all? If you want to hail Nabila, by all means, hail her! She represents one side of violence against us just as Malala represents the other. They are BOTH Pakistan. Just as the liberals are. Just as the conservatives are. Have a collective countrywide Quran Khwani for innocent lives lost. In fact, invite the Vigil Brigade to light their candles where you recite your Quran. Invite everyone with their Bible, their Vedas, their Guru Granth Sahib, their peaceful messages and realize that we are more similar than we are different.

What are we thinking?

It has been over a month since the Peshawar massacre. December 16, 2014 is a date that we must never forget. But what good exactly will it do to remember it? It’s just a number. Like 132 is just a number. If the entity these numerals signify were important enough for Pakistan, Lal Masjid would’ve been taken over by law, the terror-mongers running the show there would’ve been apprehended. But in spite of arrest warrants issued, no such thing has happened to date. Yes, one cleric was arrested for giving a pro-Taliban khutba in some small mosque and another for distributing pro-ISIS literature. So, we’re very happy frying small fry while the big sharks eat a full buffet.

Ever since the army has done away with the terrorists convicted under army courts, we’ve apparently run out of culprits to bring to justice. The civil government seems to be very comfortable with the way things are. No crackdowns on terrorist havens, no identifying sleeper cells, no arrests, no defining a clear divide between friend and foe. Instead, what surfaced on the news front was more violence against school children – this time at the hands of their local police.

As an expat, I’m often faced with two types of reactions to what I write:

Stop worrying about a failed state. You’re lucky to not live here anymore.

Stop telling us what to do. You don’t live here anymore.

With due respect to anyone who has ever advised me so, I will do neither. I will keep saying what I think needs to be said simply because I’m a judgmental witch who likes to find fault with societies that are crippled with manic issues and clueless people.

Or simply because Pakistan is the blood in my veins. I’ll carry it wherever I go and when it spills, it hurts.

I’ll leave you with this one last thought. A line from a tribute in song from ISPR to the children of APS.

Jahan tum choomti thee Maa, wahan tak agaya thaa who

Now close your eyes and picture this – forehead of your child, gun of a terrorist, blood everywhere. Picture it if you can. That’s what happened on December 16th.

They killed all the children.

What do we do now?