First published in ‘The Ism’, the newspaper of the Karachi Grammar School World Affairs Society.
OSLO was once a far away city, synonymous with the welfare state, aurora borealis and fjords. And then Anders Breivik went on a murderous rampage, and Oslo became as real as the violent, tempestuous Karachi outside my window.
It’s tragic enough that over sixty human beings were massacred, but the reality really hits home when you see them as the idealistic young men and women they were, the same age as you, with similar political convictions, united by a burning desire to serve their nation. And their dreams were shattered by a madman, who fed off of conspiracy theories and an Islamophobic discourse constructed by disgruntled, fringe elements of the right.
But the real reason this was so shockingly personal was that I knew Breivik. We all do. We’ve all come across people in our lives who hate entire communities for no rational reason, who write off entire nations on the basis of the actions of a single person. Many such individuals live in my country. The India-hating uncle, the Jew-hating cousin, and the colleague who is adamant that America is behind every bomb blast in Pakistan. They generalise that all people belonging to certain sects or races must all behave in the same way. But mankind isn’t like that. Time and time again, painstaking research has proven that there is more diversity in intelligence, behaviour and personality between people of the same community than people living on different continents. The idea of ‘race’, —that people with the same physical characteristics all behave the same way— has long been proven to be throughly unscientific nonsense.
Then why do enmities, grudges and stereotypes continue to exist? Because people are afraid of change, of anyone who is different. Xenophobia persists precisely because it is the easy way out. You’ve never been to a country, never roamed it’s streets, or spoken to it’s people. It’s safe to assume that all must be terrorists, who hate you and your way of life.
But if humanity is to embark on the next stage in it’s evolution as a species, we must be willing to put aside the superficial differences between us and embrace each other as fellow human beings. Only by letting go of prejudice can we open our eyes to the rich, diverse world around us. Every man is a story, a piece of that great jigsaw puzzle that is our history. It is precisely in these Manichean times that we must defeat the Breivik in us all and learn to truly see our vibrant, diverse world as a source of strength, not weakness. It is our differences, once we get around them that lead us to discover that people really aren’t so different after all. They may, at first, be scared, or wary of anyone who doesn’t look like them, but deep down all they want is to be accepted, and loved for who they are.