View Full Version : Change the language By Benazir Jatoi - 15th February 2016

15th February 2016, 10:15 AM
Language is the most common and effective tool of communication. Yet, it is rarely ever simple. It is versatile but also very complex. Language, when spoken or written properly, is definitely a powerful tool. And when used incorrectly is as powerful. And even more dangerous. Unfortunately, our everyday use of language for victims in recent terrorist attacks is fraught with inaccuracies. This applies to words we use when we speak, the words we read and the ones we write.

One often hears people refer to the innocent schoolchildren who died in the APS attack in December 2014 as little soldiers and martyrs. I found disturbing the images of young children dressed as soldiers in videos to mark the first anniversary of the Peshawar attack. We recently witnessed the tributes that were paid to the brave chemistry teacher, Syed Hamid Hussain, at Bacha Khan University who died saving his students. Aitzaz Hasan, the schoolboy who confronted a suicide bomber and died protecting his schoolmates, is hailed as a soldier and lauded as a hero. Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking away anything from their valour. There is no doubt that it takes immense bravery and heroism to do what Aitzaz Hasan and Hamid Hussain did.

But it seems these are the only words we use when we talk about these people. The thread of words is singular, revolving around these descriptions only. Can you imagine the fear and helplessness of the young schoolchildren and their teachers, when faced by armed, angry gunmen in their school building? The thought haunts me every time I try to imagine it. What happened to words like ‘frightened’, ‘extreme vulnerability’, ‘innocence’ and ‘unnecessary loss’? We have conveniently started convincing ordinary people that when innocent young lives are lost to bloody terror attacks, those souls have laid down their lives for us and our future. That Pakistan is lucky to have martyrs like them. But is it not obvious that when we call a 10-year-old boy a brave soldier and martyr, we are taking away from the real context that surrounded his death, and are being distracted from the real issue? Our young people are paying with their lives for the institutional failure of our state’s inability to fulfil its basic responsibility — to protect the young, who are the future of the country.

Let’s change the language we use and try something like this: young innocent people died, frightened and helpless, trying to protect themselves and others during the course of what should have been an ordinary school day. Or perhaps this: the future of our country is now scared for their lives when trying to access the basic right of acquiring an education. Or perhaps this: our schools are no longer safe places of learning because terrorists now feel that the best way to get the attention they want is by killing our children.

People who go to places of learning, like teachers and students, are not soldiers who have signed up as members of the armed forces to fight and if need be, die for the country. And hence, words such as ‘martyrdom’ are not apt descriptions that depict reality. Language affects are thought processes. And we have successfully allowed it to distract our minds from the truth. This in turn has stopped us from asking the hard questions. Language is a powerful thing. Let’s use it responsibly to depict the situation as blatantly as we can, in painful, truthful words. The right words may make us question the real issues. It’s the least we owe the ones we have lost.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2016.