A light switch can either be turned off or on. A binary number in computing can either be in a 0 or 1 state. Human ideas and philosophy -- religious or otherwise -- do not conform to these absolutes. Where they exist, there, life breathes in the gray shadow of arguments that take side of neither black nor white. There, we should be open to listen objectively to another person's point of view. There, we should not come to blows with people who follow a different political agenda. There, we should be able to tolerate difference in religious philosophies. An intolerant society provides a fertile ground for terrorists to take root and burgeon into attacks on 132 innocent children in a school in Pakistan.
Granted that the Pakistani military forces will take appropriate action against these terrorists by ridding the country from their dirty physical presence, but who will cleanse the land from their equally unclean and warped ideology? The former is formidable yet achievable, but the latter even more daunting and elusive. Where one requires perseverance and blood and sweat, the latter requires even more patience and a soul-search of our beliefs. All Pakistanis are united on the first but not many understand the importance of the second. The first may provide us with short-term gains whereas the second is the journey to a long-term and everlasting peace.
Politicians such as Mussolini and G. W. Bush thundered the: "You're with us or against us" slogan in their respective languages to hammer the black and white options to their citizens. Being "with them" was clearly the right choice. But if you had a question, or doubted their stance, then you were on the side of the enemy. This aggressive posturing was visible in the press conferences that Bush held post 9-11 where the press never asked any tough questions. Because to ask a question about Weapons of Mass Destruction, for example, was to declare one-self as a terrorist sympathizer. Not being "with the president" was to become a pariah from the conforming majority who was unwilling, at that time, to tolerate a dissension from popular sentiment.
We live in one of the most polarized times. A plethora of information available to us, 24-7 on media of all sorts seems to be highlighting more differences than celebrating common themes. We are either white or black, we are either Pakistani or Indian, or we are either Muslims or non-Muslims. And if you are one then you must hate the other. And it does not end with feelings of hate; people like the Taliban take it upon themselves to rid the earth of people who happen to fall on the other side of the line.
This misguided lot has only to read Islamic history and learn from the life of our own Prophet to realize the folly in their ways. As Muslims, we have ample stories from his life that negate this belligerent behavior. Labid and his two daughters, all of whom belonged to a different faith, had cast a spell on him before the conquest of Khaybar. After God's Prophet had recovered, he sent for Labid who consented to his crime. Instead of taking any action, the Prophet let him go. Even Hazrat Umar, who is immortalized in history as a person of overly strict and ruthless nature, was kind and just to people of other faiths. When he visited Jerusalem as the conquering caliph, he was in the church of Holy Sepulchre when the call for prayer was made. He politely declined the priest's offer to pray in the church because he did not want it converted into a mosque, which he knew the Muslims would do if he prayed in the church. If God's own Prophet and his closest companions can emulate coexistence and live a life of tolerance, why must the rest of espouse harsh, black and white ideas?
These terrorists are willing to follow our Prophet in his appearance but are miles away from the ideas and philosophy that he preached. They are willing to kill people who say anything remotely negative about him but conveniently overlook that he himself forgave people of graver crimes. They are intolerant of anyone practicing a different form of Islam, yet they forget that the word Islam means submission [to one God]. They are willing to kill innocent children but do not realize that in most military expeditions, he forbade even killing of palm trees, let alone women and children.
Once the dust settles on the military response, we need to collectively learn as citizens of this 21st century that people different from us are not a binary 0 to our 1 or an off to our on switch. And until we do so, we will continue to make our soil a fertile ground for people with hateful agendas who do not have the wherewithal to discriminate between children and adults while enforcing their parochial brand of law.