"You are so brave", some people said in response to my decision to immigrate. And I thought to myself, what is the bravery in starting over? Isn't it the most natural consequence of a dissatisfied life? I chose to change my own life instead of choosing to change the lives of others. If anything, that is cowardice.
Such thoughts become more dominant in times of turmoil in my homeland. A bomb goes off and 72 people, most of them children, die in Lahore. If I were in Pakistan, my first thought would have been of gratitude that my family, friends and I are safe and alive, yet again. I wouldn't have done anything other than call people and get depressed for a while. I would have talked to friends about leaving the country. I would have tweeted constantly about blood donations needed, without ever thinking of commuting five hours to Lahore to donate my own. I would have cried.
Now that I am not there, I feel a dark sense of longing. So many of my Canadian and American friends have messaged me in the last couple of days, condoling me for the tragedy. And every time, I felt I did not deserve those words of kindness and support. For I have abandoned the right to talk about that tragedy as my own. I fled.
As I non-territorially mourn the tragic loss of human lives and yearn to reconnect with that sense of loss as my own, I read about the protests going on in Islamabad. A horde of bearded men ransacking Islamabad to glorify a murderer who killed in broad day light a man trying to oppose the barbaric Blasphemy Law. The beards want the hanged murderer to be declared a martyr. They want promises from the government that all laws that marginalize minorities, criminalize freedom of speech, and permit murder in the name of religion must be upheld.
My mind quickly makes associations. I start to remember the times I was threatened to lose custody of my daughter because I could conveniently be proven to be a bad character woman in the court of law, as I don't abide by the decrees of the accepted religion. I recall my 4-year old daughter coming home from school and asking me 'what is hell?' just because another child had told her that is where she will burn for not being religious. I shiver when I think of the time she asked me 'will we be killed by Taliban in our school?'
I did not have the strength to fight all that or to even tolerate it. I did not leave because I was brave. I left because I was a coward.
May the departed rest in peace. May the peace that has departed rests on us.