It was a sigh of relief when I read the news, “Pakistani Taliban Deny Having any Link with the Boston Twin Blasts”. Monday, like many other days, proved to be a mentally taxing day for me. Not because of the pressure of studies but because of some unknown fears surfing inside my heart and mind. The never ending series of terrorist attacks and sectarian killings back home in Pakistan had already made things difficult not only for me but also other Pakistanis living in the US. Now it was the Boston twin blast wracking my nerves.
As I entered my suite in the university, I saw everybody with their eyes fixed on the television. CNN was flashing the breaking news of the incident. It took me a while to understand what was going on? I rushed towards my computer and logged in to my Twitter and Facebook account. I literally got goose bumps as I saw tweets from some of my friends assuming the involvement of Pakistanis in these bombings.
I looked around the room to see what other international fellows of mine were thinking? They all were sad but not fearful like me. I contacted some other Pakistani friends in the US to see what their reaction was to the Boston bombings. Unfortunately, they were also gripped by some unknown fears. It was a kind of unknown guilt for something which I didn’t do, and I feared that I’ll be blamed for it. I closed my eyes and prayed that whoever the culprits turn out to be, let them not be Pakistanis.
I thought about how I religiously try to soften the image of my country every day, and as soon as I see my effort bearing some fruit, some incident in Pakistan drags me back to ground zero. My American and other international friends don’t target me directly, but through their dialogues with me and insinuations, they convey to me their message loud and clear. They say they will never visit me in Pakistan because of their fears of being dead or abducted. It really hurts me because I am tagged with something which has nothing to do with me and most of Pakistanis. I remember seeing foreign tourists on the busy roads of Lahore back in the 1980s and 1990s but things
have changed so drastically in one and a half decade.
The American media dumped all other news, focusing only on the twin blasts in Boston. The cell phone service was suspended, hospitals declared an emergency, transportation was halted, big cities like New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles were put on high alert, flights were cancelled and people were ordered to stay inside their homes. It made me feel like being home as it is a routine matter for us
There were similarities I could relate with. Innocent people were injured the same way they are in Pakistan. Death of an eight year old child who was waiting to hug his father with an ice-cream at the finishing line of the marathon race, reminded me of many children, even younger than him, losing their lives in different suicide attacks in Pakistan. It was like a flashback. I even smelled the blood of the victims of the blast while sitting miles away from Boston in Phoenix. I could hear the screams. GPO Chowk, Moon Market, FIA Office, Rescue 15, Data Darbar and R A Bazar blasts resonated in my mind. My eyes got bleary because I had covered all these blasts in Pakistan and was able to feel the pain of the people of Boston.
I was tweeting the whole scenario minute by minute. Some twitteratis objected that I was promoting this American tragedy with the hash tag of Pakistan and terrorism. They felt that I was trying to associate both with the Boston bombing. They forgot that I am a journalist and I wanted to keep my people updated. They also forgot that Pakistanis living in America, especially the students, are more insecure in the aftermath of such incidents.
It was a surprise for me to see the US President on TV screens right after the blasts to console the victims, their families and to advise the nation to stay strong. His speech also calmed my stressed nerves a bit when he said that, ‘We still do not know who did this or why’, warning people not to ‘jump to conclusions’. He did not use the word of “terrorism” in his speech which was quite positive.
The Boston twin blasts have claimed the lives of three innocent people including a child and a woman, whereas more than 180 people are wounded and undergoing treatment in hospitals. American Intelligence agency FBI is investigating this terror attack but they are yet to find a clue. So far, the investigation shows that the bomber used a pressure cooker bomb packed with explosives and shrapnel and detonated it with blasting caps.
Though the TTP denied this attack, the investigation is underway. I am still suffering from my hidden fears; What if a Muslim or Pakistani is involved in these attacks? What reactions would I face? Right now I feel as if I am more anxious to know the outcome of the investigations than the American citizens. And I am not the only Pakistani in the US to have the same fears. A majority of the US-based Pakistanis are sitting with their finger crossed waiting for the outcome of investigations.
The writer is a Humphery Fellow from Pakistan at Walter Cronkite School
of Journalism, ASU