THE BLOG
12/17/2014 10:23 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2015

Extremism's Innocent Victims: Children and Islam

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Yesterday morning, all over the world, mothers kissed their children and waved them off to school, like they do every day of term, content that they would be safe in their classrooms and playgrounds.

Yesterday afternoon, all over the world, children rushed home excitedly. I guess the routine is similar in many homes. School bags, sports' kits and winter coats are dropped. And there's a familiar yell, "Mama, can we go play?"

And a familiar reply, "Lunch first!"

It's a comforting routine; one we take for granted: a rushed lunch, stories about their day and occasional bickering around the table.

Yesterday, 132 children who went to school in Peshawar, Pakistan did not return home.

Today, their mothers' arms are empty. Their fathers' hearts ache. A nation grieves. And a shocked world questions Islam once more as Taliban warlords boast of their cowardly revenge attack on a school.

Yesterday, 15 children who went to school in Yemen did not return home either. A car bomb hit the school bus in which they were traveling. Their parents didn't tuck them into bed last night; they buried them.

How precious, now, are those last kisses and waves?

And let's not forget that, daily, across Syria and Iraq, those lucky enough to go to school face threats on their journeys and in classrooms. Just two months ago in Homs, 41 children were killed in twin bomb attacks as they studied.

Or Nigeria's schoolgirls, kidnapped by irreligious extremists for simply wanting to learn.

These atrocities are difficult for us to process; they're simply incomprehensible. I don't have answers; I only have questions.

When did children become legitimate targets for radicals? When did global human rights treaties designed to protect children cease to matter? When did a child's safe return from school each day become something to celebrate? And until when will children pay the price of extremism?

Islam, my Islam, the Islam of 1.6 billion followers condemns the killing of children. It is a religion of peace, tolerance and mercy. It celebrates children as a gift from God. So when extremists kill in the name of Islam, they distort our sacred religion; they attack our core values; and they hijack the identity of the moderate majority.

Islam did not kill children yesterday. Evil, depraved monsters of men did.

They did so to scare us, to separate us and to sow the seeds of hatred and mistrust. We must not let them.

There are no words to comfort the distraught parents of those innocent children. It's too soon. But we can stand with them in solidarity, regardless of race or religion. And we can work harder as a global family to protect our children. So that when they skip out of our homes in the morning, we know and they know that they will return to our arms later that day.