'Pakistan School Attack: The Symbolism Is Unmistakable'

In his debut piece for WBUR’s Cognoscenti, Mathew Schmalz, associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, writes about the symbolism in the recent Pakistan school attack, which killed 145 people.

“Watching livestream reporting on the Peshawar school attack is as heartbreaking as it is surreal,” writes Schmalz. “I was sitting down to grade papers for my own classes when I heard the news and began to follow coverage on Pakistani news sites. Pakistani Urdu is spoken very fast and it was difficult for me to keep up as news anchors described the carnage. But one word came through with sorrowful clarity: ‘shaheed,’ the Urdu word for martyr. School children had been martyred for going to school.”

Schmalz is an expert in religion and politics in India and Pakistan, where he studied for four years. He is fluent in Hindi and has advanced knowledge of Urdu. “The symbolism of the deaths of innocent students is unmistakable for a society struggling to right itself after more than a decade of unrest,” he continues. “The symbolism of the attack is equally unmistakable.”

“In choosing this date to launch an attack, the Pakistani Taliban had thought through carefully how to inflict as much damage on the army as possible — attacking a military school on the anniversary of the Pakistani army’s greatest defeat.”

He writes that mass terror attacks are not new to Pakistan, but the aftermath of this most recent attack could prove to be even more devastating.

This "Holy Cross in the News" item by Cristal Steuer.