Beyond These Borders

map-pakistanIt’s Tuesday afternoon, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, and on the sixth anniversary of the April 16 shootings. I’m looking at one of the apps in my arsenal of news apps. The big headline across the top of the page is about the bombing in Boston. So are a whole bunch of others below it on the page. Buried in middle of all of it was this one: “Another suicide bombing in Peshawar, killing 15 and injuring a few dozen others.” Just another day in the city that was my home for 11 years.

It wasn’t always like this. Peshawar used to be one of the quieter cities in Pakistan. The violence in Pakistan was largely due to gangs in the bigger cities of Karachi and Lahore. But in the last six years, the Pakistani Taliban have become far more aggressive. Between terrorism, war, natural disasters, and politics, Pakistan, it seems, has gone into a tailspin – and Peshawar has been hit hard. I remember when the first couple explosions rocked Peshawar at the beginning of 2007. I remember reading the news at the boarding school that I’d started going to the year before, about four hours away. I remember feeling pretty much the same thing America felt when hearing the news from Boston. Or from Newtown. Or Aurora. Or from Virginia Tech, on that day, just a few months later, that we are remembering as I write this. The same shock and grief.

But the worst part is that it wasn’t over. I had no idea at the time, but it was just the beginning. Within a couple years, it was more newsworthy when a week went by without something in Peshawar getting blown up. Over the past six years, as bomb after bomb has gone off, along with everything else that has ravaged Peshawar and Pakistan as a whole, I am simultaneously heartbroken and numbed. Or numbed so that full extent of the heartbreak doesn’t destroy me.

I am always hesitant to talk about the violence in Pakistan because I don’t want to feed the stereotypes. Pakistan is a wonderful country. I love it and I miss it. There’s so much more to it than the Taliban and the violence and all the negatives that Americans hear about it. The extremists are a small minority. But a very real, and active one. The people getting blown up, and those who haven’t yet but fear for their lives every day, are just ordinary people, like you and me. Even the ones with the explosives strapped to them and the detonator in their hands are often victims themselves – either brainwashed, or desperate enough to be bought off for a pitiful amount of money, so their families have enough to survive a little longer.

After a while it takes its toll.

And so, every time one of these tragedies strikes somewhere in America, I am filled with a mixture of feelings. All the thoughts and emotions about the violence in Pakistan comes rushing back. My heart goes out to the communities and the families of those who have lost their lives. At the same time, it is really cool to see people come together behind these communities. Because of April 16, we Hokies seem to find kindred spirits in the people affected by these shootings and bombings. Watching Virginia Tech come behind Newtown, and now Boston, has been nothing short of awesome. But mixed into this is frustration – for lack of a better word, though I feel like “frustration” doesn’t quite hit the mark. The world showed its support for Haiti after the earthquake and then Japan after the tsunami. But how many even remember that in between those two disasters was another one – floods that left a fifth of Pakistan underwater and displaced millions of people? It was right at the end of my first summer back in the US after leaving Pakistan. I remember a few people talking about it during the couple weeks that the floodwaters were sweeping the length of the country, but by time the damage had been done and the country was waiting for the water to recede and relief to come in, American media had moved on, and with it, America’s attention span. Most of the people I’ve mentioned it to since then don’t even remember that it happened at all.

In the same way, it frustrates and saddens me that while what happened at the Boston Marathon was terrible, most Americans miss that bombings just like that happen in Pakistan on a regular basis. Each one would be considered a tragedy in and of itself if it happened here. But in Pakistan, it’s just another bomb going off, and just another death toll added to the long, uncounted list of terrorism casualties in Pakistan over the past half dozen years. And at best they get a couple paragraphs devoted to them in international news, buried at the bottom of the headlines. And many don’t notice.

All this is what has been on my mind since hearing the news out of Boston, and as Tech remembers April 16. And then, as if to drive my point home, that bomb went off in Peshawar.

I feel I should say that I know this is very much a generalization, and not all Americans are oblivious to the outside world. But it’s certainly a strong tendency in America as a whole. And what is normal for the society you live in is that much harder to spot in yourself and get away from.

My point in writing all this is not to take away from what happened in Boston or any of the other tragedies that have struck America. But I want to take advantage of the fact that everyone has been a bit shaken and maybe a little more reflective over the last couple days, especially at Tech, where we simultaneously grieve for the loss of life in Boston and remember the loss of life right here. I want to issue this challenge: Look beyond our borders. If no other time, when tragedy strikes closer to home, take a moment to remember the suffering in the rest of the world. Look to the explosions and war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Look to the concentration camps and oppression in North Korea. Look to the civil wars and power struggles in Africa. Look to senseless loss of life across the globe. We in America are incredibly blessed. So much so that it often takes violence and death in our schools and streets to shock us out of our complacency and give us just a taste of what it might be like to live outside of these borders. So grieve for Boston and Virginia Tech. And grieve – and pray – for the brokenness of the world.

~ Sean Lunsford

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