We all talk about peace. About ending war. About making a difference for our fellow man. But would you walk the walk, even if you’re only walking into an early grave?
That’s what it cost Aitzaz Hassan. Aitzaz, may his soul rest in peace, was a brave 15-year-old boy who selflessly sacrificed himself to prevent a suicide bomber from detonating in his school, saving an estimated 1,000 classmates’ lives.
Since his heroic actions, photos of the boy have popped up all over the web: an overall unassuming boy, most likely not the most remarkable of his peers. And yet, the bud of a hero lay dormant inside this seemingly mild-mannered youth. So what does it take to be a hero? Some would say it takes guts, others might claim it takes self confidence, and others yet would say one must be mad to throw themselves at an assailant in someone else’s defense. Well, I would claim otherwise: that the workings of a hero can be found in anyone, and in fact everyone.
Aitzaz Hassan had something that many of us seem to have forgotten: love for his peers. This boy didn’t think of glory, or fame, or the affection of that one girl in class who makes his heart race (as most modern depictions of the hero would suggest). Aitzaz spotted a threat to his classmates, and knowing that if he didn’t react they would most certainly be in grave danger, he took it upon himself to act and intercepted the saboteur.
This boy’s heroic act must now serve as an example to us all, that we should not wait for others to take action and save the day. Because by the time someone else spots the threat, it might be too late to prevent the injury and even deaths of hundreds, or indeed thousands.
Moreover, it is our job to honor and live by this boy’s example, and make his story known. We must do the job that, for fear of repercussions from the group who organized the cowardly attack that cost this boy his life, the local media in Pakistan are hesitating to do. Perhaps by showing them that the world stands by Aitzaz, we could move the people of Pakistan to resist and root out the cancer of terrorism from their country, so that they need not live in fear of being targeted by violent extremists.
And Aiztaz’s family is proud of their boy, saying “Many people are coming to see [us], but if they try to express sympathy, [we] tell them to congratulate [us] instead on becoming the [family] of a martyr.” Those words are infinitely moving. It is encouraging and beautiful that in a Muslim world where the majority of those who are hailed as “martyrs” and “heroes” are murderers and terrorists, there are still people who understand the true meaning and weight behind the title. That there are people who honor what it means to sacrifice one’s self for the good of society, and for the good of mankind as a whole, to selflessly defend their fellow man from the attacks of cowards and fear mongers. Such are true martyrs, people like Aitzaz Hassan, who know the value of human life and who would fight tooth and nail to defend its sanctity.
We’ve condemned martyrs for hatred and war long enough. It’s time to uplift martyrs for love and peace.
Alon Starkman, a reserve non-commissioned officer for the Swiss military, is a contributor to The Desert Lynx.