The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 14, 2014

Pakistani youth the very definition of hero

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Perhaps you overlooked this recent piece of international news.

Likely it was overshadowed by Chris Christie’s travails with “Bridgegate,” the NFL playoffs, all the talk about the Golden Globes and the latest gossip about the Kardashians.

A teenage boy died in Pakistan.

That in itself hardly is news. People die every day in every part of the world. The annual death rate in Pakistan in 2013 was estimated at 6.69 per 1,000 people. Since there are some 180 million people in Pakistan, that’s a lot of dying.

Aitazaz Hassan Bangash was a ninth-grader in the Hangu district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The other day, Aitazaz was on his way to school with his cousin, when the two were approached by a man wearing their school’s uniform, asking where the school was.

Aitazaz became suspicious and confronted the man, as other students backed off. A witness said Aitazaz threw a large stone at the man, then grabbed him as he neared the entrance to the school, which has some 1,000 students. When Aitazaz grabbed the intruder, the man panicked and detonated the suicide bomb vest he was wearing.

Aitazaz died, of course, as did the bomber, and two other people were injured. But many of the school’s students were gathered for a morning assembly. Had the bomber gotten inside the school and triggered his bomb among them, dozens could have died.

Aitazaz didn’t have to intervene, he could have simply stood by and let someone else confront the bomber.

He could have decided not to get involved, that it wasn’t his fight, that it wasn’t worth the risk. His friends urged him to walk away.

Aitazaz could have saved his own life. Instead, his actions saved many others.

There is no clearer definition of a hero, in my book.

Pakistanis are hailing Aitazaz for his bravery. A man named Adnan Majeed told Arab News, “The suicide bomber was going to perform an act of cowardice and take the lives of innocent children for no reason except to inflict violence.”

That is the clearest definition of terrorism I have ever read. “For no reason except to inflict violence.” There can be no other reason, all the claptrap about religion, politics and ideology aside.

Pakistanis have decried the attack, venting their anger at the Sunni militant group that claimed responsibility, an outfit calling itself Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

So why did suicide attacks in Pakistan increase by 39 percent in 2013? Why don’t more people stand up to the thugs who attempt to impose their will upon others through fear and intimidation?

In recent months, there has been sentiment among some leaders in Pakistan for trying to negotiate with extremist groups. That sentiment may be fading.

“We live in a land where a young child had to give his life fighting a scourge that our own leaders bend over backwards in an attempt to appease,” wrote Zarrar Khuhro, a Pakistani journalist.

As Irish statesman Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Aitazaz Hassan Bangash did not change the world, did not even save it. But he did take a stand against evil and scored one small victory over the forces of terror.

Of course, a number of small victories can translate into one large one.

Most importantly, Aitazaz saved lives.

As his father, Mujahid Ali, told the Express Tribune newspaper, “My son made his mother cry, but saved hundreds of mothers from crying for their children.”

You will likely never be come face-to-face with a bomb-vest-wearing terrorist intent on killing dozens of children.

But you will doubtless face situations where you see a wrong that needs to be put right, someone who needs help or simply needs a friend, something that begs to be done but is being neglected, and you will face the decision — will you act or will you stand safely on the sidelines?

How will you answer? We know what Aitazaz Hassan Bangash decided.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.