Days after Faisal Shahzad, a married father of two, was sentenced to life in prison for his failed attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square, twin bombs exploded at a Sufi shrine in Karachi when the throng of devotees was at its peak. The Pakistani Taliban, which used Shahzad as a pawn for the attack, also claimed responsibility for bombings at Abdullah Shah Ghazi's shrine on Oct. 7. "We are only trying to defend our religion, our people, our honor and our land," Shahzad told the court on Oct. 5, as he complained about the suffering of Muslims. Yet he ignored the behavior of those like himself, who kill without discrimination the very people he claims to be fighting for.
Just months before the Karachi bombings that took eight lives and injured more than 60 people, an ancient tomb of Ali Hajviri, who is lovingly called Data, was shaken by three blasts that killed 35 and left 175 injured. Earlier, in May, two mosques of the minority Ahmedi sect were attacked and 93 worshipers died. The Taliban were suspected for these incidents in Lahore.
Militants are often brainwashed to think of themselves as "sacrificial lambs" in what they call a "war against the infidels." But they are no heroes for Muslims either, since they've only played a villainous role. Devotees frequent shrines to pay homage to the pious, while some come to fast track their prayers by seeking mediation of the Sufi saints, which is outright blasphemy in the so-called Wahhabi ideology that deems going to shrines as "grave worship." But is that a justification to kill another human being? Do the Taliban have a sole franchise on Islam?
After every terrorist attack, what you see is a breaking news banner on TV coupled with an increasing death toll competition on local channels that creates not so long-lasting sensation, because such terrorist attacks are a common occurrence in Pakistan. While Benazir Bhutto's death generated many headlines, cover stories, tributes and obituaries, most of the dead in attacks are not heralded or remembered much beyond their own families, who endlessly struggle with unhealed wounds of sorrow due to their loss.
As Shahzad prepares for a long internment, he might do well to reflect on the life and death of Amir Baluch, aged 18, who died instantly in the bombings during Benazir Bhutto's homecoming procession on Oct. 18, 2007. He was among the 250 who died in the rally. Bhutto herself survived the attack only to die 70 days later by gunfire for which the Taliban's Baitullah Mehsud was suspected.
I first visited Baluch's family a few days after his death and watched the mourning process closely. He was as much a victim of the economic necessity that drove him to this appointment with death as he was of the explosives that shattered his life and the frail hopes of his family.
Baluch lived in a shantytown in Karachi. All he wanted was to have a better life for himself and for his parents. He hoped to marry the girl his mother had chosen for him and to procure a stable job in a society where shameless nepotism is the norm. Baluch started working alongside his father after he finished third grade. "We struggled with poverty," said his father, Mohamad Din. Child labor, which is a harsh reality for many youngsters in impoverished nations, became his fate at the age of 10. He earned 60 rupees, less than a dollar a day, for painting walls in a middle-class residential area. When Amir grew older he started painting the walls of factories, which earned him 250 rupees (nearly $3) a day.
Only six months before he died, Amir got a better job as an elevator operator in a high-rise building. This job came as a blessing to the family, because his father couldn't work as much as he could before having a heart problem. A year ago before Baluch's death, while driving a cab, Mohammed Din's vision started to blur and he was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed as having a weak heart. Since then, he hasn't been able to work to capacity. Being the eldest son, Amir had to work even harder as the main breadwinner of the family, which was comprised of his four brothers, a baby sister and his parents, as well as an uncle who suffers from throat cancer.
Even before Baluch's death, his parents were plagued by tragedy: They lost their 18-year-old daughter, who was engaged and soon to be married. She was admitted to an under-resourced government hospital where her intestines burst open and she died a painful death.
Mohammed Din has no memory of the day his son died. Bibi Jan, Baluch's mother, heard noise from the streets. Upon inquiring, she heard rumors of bombing in procession where her son had gone. The father woke up from sleep to know that his son may have died. The family went to several hospitals in search of the body before they discovered it in a morgue the following day. Amir had been in the direct line of the blast. He had a hole at the back of his head and the left side of his face was crushed.
Jan was told that her son is coming, but she didn't know that he is being brought wrapped in a white shroud. The moment she saw the car carrying her teenage son's body, she ran inside the house in disbelief, trying to avoid the sight. For 40 days following death, the house remained in mourning and was expected to play host to a stream of guests who console the family with their presence, supplication and prayer. This only worked to further impoverish Baluch's family.
"Now with Amir gone, I have to go back to work despite my heart problem," said Mohammed. "We have gone back to square one again and I don't know how long I can carry on doing this. I pray that I hold out till my other children are able to stand on their own two feet and support the family. After that I don't care what happens to me."
Now, three years after Baluch's death, the family is in shambles. The father is unfit to work and cannot afford proper treatment. The family buys groceries on credit, which they pay off sometimes through charity. The mother still cries recalling her son's dreams that never came true. He wanted his parents to move to a bigger house, where he could bring his bride, but today the entire family is confined to a room with hammered walls, where they eat and sleep. Baluch's sister doesn't remember her brother but sees her mother crying in frenzy over the loss of her son, that's how she knows him, through her mother's grief.
This is the plight of many families who've lost a breadwinner in bombings that are planned by ruthless militants and executed by brainwashed youth, who commit this heinous act of terrorism in the name of religion. Pakistan has witnessed dozens of suicide bombings by militants who are convinced of their righteousness and heavenly destination -- where they'll literally find 70 some odd virgins -- after martyrdom. The latest atrocity in this vein occurred only within the last 24 hours, with at least six killed in an explosion at the Baba Farid Shrine in Pakpattan, 190 km from Lahore.
Shahzad pledged his allegiance to Allah in the court: "If I'm given 1,000 lives, I will sacrifice all of them for the life of Allah." But Allah's infinite existence does not depend on human sacrifice. There is no justification for taking an innocent life -- may it be an atheist, a Buddhist, a Hindu or a homosexual -- so much so that a Muslim can't take his or her own life. Islam is a life-affirming religion and a religion of love that has no space for those of "God's warriors" who are committed to death.
Photographs by Fahad Faruqui