Terrorism breeds fear and living in fear makes people feel hopeless. It is this very hopelessness that terrorists thrive on. And yet, sometimes, all it takes is a few people to get a movement going that can change the course of eventsIt is difficult for anyone to deny that Pakistan is under attack and that the biggest problem facing the nation today is terrorism. It has been written about countless times and been debated over and over again; it has changed thousands of lives forever. In 2007 alone, over 2000 were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
Terrorism breeds fear and living in fear makes people feel hopeless. It is this very hopelessness that terrorists thrive on. Once this vicious cycle starts, it is very difficult to see a positive end. And yet, sometimes, all it takes is a few people to get a movement going that can change the course of events.
The beginnings of such a movement are now being seen in Pakistan. Last week, the Yeh Hum Naheen Foundation, a non-profit organisation that was set up last year, started an anti-terrorism campaign, the first of its kind in Pakistan. Ads have been appearing in newspapers, on billboards and on TV, encouraging people to ‘say no to terrorism’ by signing the petition on its website (www.yehhumnaheen.org), with volunteers across the country or via SMS. Within the first week, according to the website, over 2 million people signed the petition.
Yeh Hum Naheen was started by Waseem Mahmood who, inspired by his children, wanted to give the majority of Muslims, who are not extremists and do not support terrorism, a voice. The objective was to spread the word that terrorism is actually a contradiction of Islam and to encourage people to condemn and fight against terrorism.
The movement started with a song, Yeh Hum Naheen, which is being aired on Pakistani TV and radio channels, and features some of Pakistan’s best-known singers. The lyrics — gira baithe hain rastay mein sabak hum sath rahnay ka [we have lost on the way the lesson of living together]…humay ek doosray say isliye bhi lag raha hai daar [we are now even scared of each other] — paint a telling picture of where we find ourselves today.
The movement has not only received support from the local media and celebrities, but has been reported on in the international press, including coverage by Fox News. The song has become very popular in Pakistan, and India, and has been released in the UK with subtitles. Not only can it be found on popular sources such as MySpace, YouTube and iTunes, it has also generated numerous blogs, discussion forums and fan sites.
History is full of examples of people who have struggled for what they believe in. It is these struggles that have made it possible for millions to have freedom of speech, the right to vote, and to gain independence and freedom. People have continuously and tirelessly fought for these basic human rights, and have protested against wars, injustice and prejudice.
Today, in Pakistan, our basic rights are under threat.
Parents are scared of sending their children to school; people are afraid of going into public areas and live in the fear that the next terrorist attack will be in their city. The media is receiving threats if they speak up against extremism, violence and terrorism, as the Urdu daily, Aaj Kal, did earlier this week. Swat is now having its schools blown up, and its peaceful inhabitants live fearfully in their own homes.
Still, people are not willing to speak up against terrorism, and instead take an almost apologetic stance, saying it is not right to kill innocent people but look at what America is doing. There is no justification for killing innocent people. The people who organise and carry out these terrorist attacks are not friends of Pakistan, Islam or humanity. By creating unrest, terror and fear, these elements want to pressurise the government into changing its policies and eventually gaining power for themselves. And by destroying the very foundation of the economy of this country, they want to keep the people poor, illiterate and hungry, and transform them into militants.
The Yeh Hum Naheen campaign asks us: Are we the ones who deprive mothers of their children? Are we the ones who are destroying our own future? Are we the ones who turn hopes into misery?
If we don’t say a very strong and firm NO to terrorism, if we don’t fight for our right to live without fear and for the freedom to say what we want , if we choose to remain silent, then the answer to all those questions is very simple:
Yes, we are. We are the ones letting this happen.
The writer teaches at the Beaconhouse National University