On Easter Sunday a blast ripped through a park in central Lahore killing 72 people at least half of them children. Western readers will not appreciate that this hell on earth was created within an instant in a city with a reputation for tolerance and beauty. There is an old saying in the Indian subcontinent that “one who has not seen Lahore has not been born!” But such is the reputation of this romantic city steeped as it is in mysticism, romance and natural vitality that for centuries it has been regarded as the beating heart of the subcontinent.
Successive invaders including Huns, Turks, Moguls and the British have left indelible marks on this place and fell in love with its chaotic charm and beauty. It was the favourite city not only of Emperors Akbar the Great and Jahangir but also of Rudyard Kipling. Its artists, writers and Sufi mystics (not to mention its inventive chefs) have enabled Lahore to earn the title of cultural and literary capital of Pakistan. In the field of arts, religion, philosophy and politics Lahore has been preeminent for a thousand years. It is a city that simply keeps giving to those that care to open their eyes and observe humanity.
And so to the motives of those who carried out this atrocity. A statement issued by Jamaat Al-Ahrar, a Taliban offshoot, (funny how they choose Arabic names in country where probably less than 1% of the population speak the language), claimed responsibility whilst declaring that it was targeting Christians. Now it is true that there are a large number of Christians amongst the seven million or so Lahoris and many sadly died that day. This demonstrates the intentionally divisive tactics of such groups and if ever it was required how warped the terrorist mind set is. Lahoris, like other people around the world go to fairs and fetes for simple reasons. Firstly it was spring and a holiday and parents want to spend quality time with their families. There is a wonderful word in Urdu – tamasha which has no direct translation in English but means “the crack” or hulabaloo or generally something entertaining to see. Children just love the thrill of rides, sweets and no doubt just mixing with mates. I suspect teenage boys were there to do what most teenage boys all over the world do: look at the girls. And yes there would have been people there mixing with the crowds hoping to pick a pocket or two! Their religion did not define why they were there but their primary purpose for going to the tamasha did. 5 years olds waiting patiently to go on a Ferris wheel or swings (where the bomb exploded) are less concerned with the religion of the child in front of the queue then the fact that he is at the front of the queue! Likewise I don’t think pick pockets worry too much about their religion or that of the person whose pocket they are about to pick.
In assuming that Muslim Lahoris who love a good tamasha and are well known to down tools for a bit of entertainment, would not go to the fair on account that it was a festival aimed at “others” perfectly encapsulates a barren and dystopian terrorist mind set. And therein lies the hope for Pakistan. The Pakistani media made little mention of Easter or the religious conviction of those slaughtered (for the record 45 of the 72 were Muslim), but focused on the tragedy itself and the efforts of the police and medical services. Thousands turned up at hospitals to donate blood: no one asked the religion of the victims. By refusing to play to the terrorist narrative – people have through a very simple act rejected them, and therein lies a small victory for Lahore.
Christian and Hindu soldiers alongside thousands of Muslims have died fighting terrorism in Pakistan, and just as they died not as Hindus, Muslims or Christians but as soldiers, so to did the people in Gulshan e Iqbal Park, who died as children, would be teenage Romeos and yes, pick pockets. They were all in there together and died together.
Lahore will recover from this as it always does – so it is time to proclaim:
MeiN hüN Lahori – I am Lahori – Je suis Lahori – Ich bin Lahori – Soy Lahori – Anaa Lahori
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