A terrorist victim isn’t always someone else - article by Tahir Wadood Malik


A terrorist victim isn’t always someone else
by Tahir Wadood Malik
26 April 2011

Islamabad - Terrorism was something that happened to others.

Upon seeing news of another terrorist attack, I would simply change the channel. That is, until 5 October 2009, when I received a phone call that would change my life forever. The caller said that there had been a bomb blast in the office of the UN agency in Islamabad where my wife Gul Rukh worked.

I do not remember whether I drove, or how I reached the office. All I know is that somehow I got there. But there was nothing to see, and no one to meet.

Someone told me that Gul Rukh had been taken to the medical centre. Driving there in a daze, I began asking myself the eternal question people in such situations ask: “Why us?”

My name is Tahir Wadood Malik, a retired Major in the Pakistan Army. My career provided me with a comfortable lifestyle, and I considered myself to be part of Pakistan’s “privileged” society. In many ways I felt aloof from many of the everyday people of Pakistan.

Upon reaching the medical centre, I stood surrounded by chaos, until a doctor took me to a gurney covered in a white sheet. Lifting it, I saw the face of Gul Rukh, drawn of all colour, lifeless.

As I stood there, numb and glued to the floor, I heard a scuffle. Looking up, I saw a hospital staff member pushing a television camera man away from near where I was standing. He’d been filming the chaos in the hospital as well as my reaction, and I realised that I had become the nameless, unknown face on the television that was shocked and stunned from the carnage of a terrorist attack. I was that “common” Pakistani no one really wanted to see.

Before midnight, the burial was done and people had dispersed. I was left alone to brood and to feel angry, depressed and drained, unable to think clearly about what had happened.

As days went by, I felt increasingly alone. There was no one to talk to. For many in Pakistan, grieving is a silent, personal matter, and most people are resigned to loss being the will of God. However, while people’s responses to loss may seem similar, there is no typical response to loss, maybe because there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.

In the days that followed, there were more terrorist attacks and I felt myself drawn to these places. Talking with the survivors made me realise that we could empathise with each other because we shared a loss that others could not identify with.

What could be done for others who’d suffered so gravely? I had the opportunity to meet other survivors of terrorism from across the globe in Amman, Jordan when I was invited to attend the opening of a park dedicated to the memory of the 2005 hotel bombings there, which led to the deaths of 60 people and injured 115 others.

This collaboration of terror attack victims from around the globe gave me the direction I needed to channel my frustration and helplessness into helping my fellow Pakistanis. Upon my return to Pakistan, I started talking to more survivors and victims, and gave presentations to college and university students to raise awareness about what happens to family and friends in the aftermath of such attacks. We then founded the Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network to help victims and survivors of terrorism, and let them interact, console and empathise with each other.

In talking with others, I learnt that while forgetting is impossible, we can all learn to forgive. I ask others in my situation to make an effort to do so too.

But if I ever had the chance to encounter someone who was considering becoming a suicide bomber, I would ask them just a few questions: have you actually read what the Qur’an says about such actions, or are you just listening to an ideologue? Do you know that the Prophet Muhammad abhorred violence? And, finally, how can you reconcile the fact that, one day, someone else may commit the same kind of attack, leaving your family member injured or dead?

We victims and survivors are certainly not “common”. We have suffered through a loss so traumatic that many others will hopefully never have to understand or share. I hope our voices speak loud enough to resonate with young, confused extremists and their sympathisers, impressing upon them that their actions will not achieve anything except pain, loss and destruction.


* Tahir Wadood Malik is Founder of the Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network, which aims to provide terrorist attack survivors and victims’ families the support they need to express their grief, share the burden of loss and know they are not alone. This article is part of a series on the consequences of terrorism written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 26 April 2011, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Comment by tahir wadood malik on April 30, 2011 at 8:52am

dear jo berry.

thank you for your comment, it is really humbling to meet you here having a similar experience as mine. i am impressed with your having interacted with the bomber, but sadly in my case he was a victim of his own act too. but i wish to one day meet the 'real' handler (almost impossible here), and ask him the questions that are there in my mind.

you are doing important work, it surprises me that there are so many of us and so much to do but we do not know.

sadly here in Pakistan we are far from making a beginning due to cultural and societal reasons.

we feel but neither talk nor act.

God bless, and keep us safe to do our work and to speak truth to terror.

Comment by Jo Berry on April 30, 2011 at 6:38am

Thank you Tahir for your inspiring example and all you do for others who have been affected by terrorism. I am so sorry for your loss and pain, my heart goes out to you.

I remember feeling so alone when my Father was killed in a IRA bomb in 1984 and It is so important that victims receive support from others who understand.

I also appreciate your words on forgiveness, I beleive it is journey we can all take, especially when we have received support for our own grief.

Having been in dialogue for over 10 years with the ex terrorist who killed my father, I know that  violence is only possible beacuse the humanity of the 'other' is not seen . The questions you ask to potential suicide bombers are very relevant as I believe once the move is made from a 'target' to real human beings it is harder to kill.

I belive in a work where we see and value the humanity in everyone, and where we meet the needs of all,

with deep gratitude and hope to meet you one day



Comment by tahir wadood malik on April 28, 2011 at 2:02am

assalam o alikum, all.

thank you for your comments, these go a long way to strengthen my resolve to continue to speak truth to terror.

* soha gad, sadly no, it will take some time and lot of effort for that to happen

* craig, thank you for sharing your initiative, will definitely work on it and use it in my interactions here. channel 4 had made a documentary "city of Fear" which is archived in the dispatches series, about my and other experience in Islamabad. also there are 5 short clips with narration by victims, and survivors made by the GSN, and there are uploaded on the facebook page 'in memory of gul rukh tahir.'

* hedley abernithy - my pleasure.


Comment by Soha Gad on April 27, 2011 at 4:53pm

Thanks for sharing your personal experience I hope that things are better now in  Pakistan.



Comment by Craig Zelizer on April 27, 2011 at 10:17am
Thank you for sharing this powerful story about your very difficult experience. I do some work with the Parents Circle/Families Forum which is a similar group in Israel/Palestine that I would encourage you to learn about. There is also a very powerful film, Encounter Point, which features their work (among others, the film focuses on peacebuilders in Israel/Palestine ) which I have shown to groups around the world and is very inspirational and though provoking.
Comment by Ojok on April 27, 2011 at 6:38am
Your message is so touching to many who have experienced the reality of terrorist attack and continued to live through the horrifying ordeal. May we all work to ending this kind of attacks on innocent people
and promote peaceful coexistance
Comment by Hedley Abernethy on April 27, 2011 at 4:58am
Thank you for sharing this beautifully written piece. I work in a trauma centre in Northern Ireland and I would like, with your permission,  to use this article to inspire others. Thanks again. Hedley
Comment by ANDEBO PAX PASCAL on April 27, 2011 at 2:43am

Violence has never been a solution to problems. What is more perturbing is that religion, which in most cases is supposed to be a foundation of peace has become the spring board for many violent acts 'in the name of God'. I wonder if that God really wills this violence to be perpetrated upon his people. It is a shame that religions create divisions other than unity for humanity.

Tahir, go ahead with your initiative. This effort will go a long way in the fight for peace. May Allah bless it.

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