The Real Victims of Terrorist Acts
27 July, 2005
By Nazim Rahman
In the wake of recent bombings in London, the spotlight and blame for the acts has once again been pointed at Pakistan and Pakistanis. Once again, the Western and Indian media has moved quickly to disgrace our nation and us. Once again, the government of Pakistan is forced to defend itself against unjust accusations. We blame the media and the bombers for our disgrace and it is only natural that we defend our tarnished reputation but there is a lot more at stake than just our reputation.
When we speak of victims, we usually speak of loss of life, sorrow of family and friends, shock and disgust felt by the nation, and economic costs of the event. Terrorist attacks have an immediate negative impact on the local businesses and in particular the travel and tourism industry. A terrorist attack affects the livelihoods of everyone in one-way or another. The trauma caused by such an attack increases ethnic and racial tensions while increasing religious intolerance. As has been repeatedly seen several times since the world trade center attacks, a terrorist attack makes it easier for governments to pass laws restricting individual liberties and violating individual privacy in the name of security.
A terrorist attack clearly has a detrimental effect on the local population. However, the largest victims are the community from which the attacker has originated, since they will be subject to discrimination for a long time. In the case of London bombings, this represents the Pakistani community and Muslims in general.
Muslims make up 3% of the UK population of which a significant percentage is of Pakistani origin. A vast majority of these Pakistanis are born in Britain and are British nationals. For these persons, UK is home and their country. This is where they were born and this is where they expect to spend the rest of their lives, just like any Briton whose ancestors have been living on the island since the middle ages. These individuals might now face discrimination in the job market and are at the risk of finding themselves in various uncomfortable and embarrassing situations.
Muslims living in United States often mention the various uncomfortable events they had to suffer through. Events such as being singled out and led away by security guards at the airport for "questioning" while hearing the whole crowd at the terminal whispering and looking at you. Events such as losing a flight to satisfy the suspicions of someone or having police show up at your doorstep because the neighbour was suspicious about the two large boxes the person was carrying into his own house. Many Muslims moved to different countries. There was a large exodus of Muslims from USA to Canada. Those who still live in the US face discrimination in the job market and have a general sense of insecurity. All this is particularly difficult for children who are too young to understand or deal with such events.
The effects of attacks such as the London bombings are more far reaching than Britain itself. Pakistan is a developing country with a huge population. To develop our country, we desperately need foreign educated and foreign qualified individuals. Just look around at high-level posts in any major company in Pakistan. You will find Pakistanis educated overseas, or Pakistanis with previous foreign work experience. Even our prime minister, who has literally turned around our economy, spent a significant portion of his life in the US and we all benefit from the skills he has acquired there. Since the world trade center bombings, the number of Pakistanis being able to go to the US for education or work has declined significantly and this would certainly have a negative impact on our economy in the future. The events in London have already started a debate on immigration policies in Britain. This will surely have an affect on the opportunities available for Pakistanis in the rest of Europe as well.
We depend on the industrialized nations for their expertise, defense equipment, finance (in the form of loans and direct investment), and we also benefit from the foreign exchange sent by hardworking Pakistanis living in these countries. Overseas Pakistanis have changed the demographics of Pakistan. A poor uneducated man can go overseas and earn enough money to fulfil the financial needs of his family, send his children to school, and guarantee financial security of his entire family. In villages, such financial strength enables a family to move up the social classes.
Pakistan, like any other developing country, benefits from our citizens living abroad or returning home after having lived abroad. Therefore, we must ensure that our young generation continues to have the opportunity to go overseas for work or for study. Terrorist events only serve to close doors of opportunities and expose us to discrimination. Whenever there is a terrorist event in which a Pakistani or Muslim can be somehow linked, we as nation, suffer.
People who have conducted such horrendous acts or approve of such acts in the name of Islam should be ashamed of themselves. Our religion preaches tolerance, humanity, kindness, and peace. Murder of innocent persons is strictly forbidden regardless of the circumstances. In fact, Muslims all over the world have expressed their sorrow and grief over criminal acts such as London and Madrid bombings. Governments of all Muslim countries have strongly condemned such acts. Such events only cause more suffering for Muslims all over the world.
The international media should stop blaming entire nations or a religion for the actions of a few. Media has enormous influence over public opinion and with this power comes a responsibility: The responsibility to work towards a better and more tolerant and more peaceful world, for us all. Inciting hatred against a community, nation, or religion is very irresponsible. It hurts both the nation fallen victim to an attack and the nation blamed for such events.