Following Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem the Bible tells how King Herod, jealous and concerned by this potential threat to his rule, had all of the children massacred. Matthew’s gospel quotes a prophecy from Jeremiah, the words of which have always stuck with me:
“A voice is heard in Rama, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more”.
Today Peshawar witnessed a similar massacre. An Army school was attacked by gunmen who climbed the walls, shot the guards, and roamed the classrooms, hunting children. Perhaps 130 people were killed, mostly from gunshot wounds to the head or chest. It is an unthinkable act. It is beyond adjectives. It is beyond description.
No doubt analysts and journalists will spend much of their time over the next few days expending much energy discussing the implications. What of the ongoing army offensive against the Taliban? What of the government’s position? What will the army do? How will this affect Pakistan’s political situation? How will Imran Khan respond?
Perhaps this is a normal human reaction; an attempt to obtain some kind of sense from an act of senseless cruelty. A way of rationalising it, analysing it, thinking in pleasant abstractions about broad concepts like civil governance, army policies, security procedures, ways of preventing it happening again. I was going to do the same: write about militancy in Pakistan, about how this kind of terror is rejected by an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, about how untypical this is of Muslim people, about….about anything, because doing so would take my mind off it, and right now the image of gunmen roaming the corridors of a school while tiny children as young as my own cower under their desks and weep in terror is haunting my thoughts.
A hundred and thirty kids. One hundred and thirty kids.
I came home from work early. My kids came racing to the door when they heard my key in the lock. We had dinner, and I read them a bedtime story, and they went to bed. I will sleep soon, comfortably and in peace, but across this beautiful and perplexing land the voice of mourning can be heard, echoing around the fog-draped cities and fields like a dark mist.