After the Peshawar attack last week, I was feeling quite hopeless about the human species. I couldn’t imagine ideologies would go so far as to kill children. Intolerance and prejudice can never be separated from violence. And the intolerance prevalent in our own families breed these monsters who would slaughter children. If a girl falls in love with an ‘infidel’, the abuse she suffers for such a cardinal ‘sin’ is unspeakable. And how many people in her family and community support her? ZERO. This girl might be one of the most talented people I have seen in my life – the type who can touch any activity and turn it into gold – be it art, writing, or anything else. Yet nothing this person does in life matters because she went against faith. Do her family members and friends make things up, or are they fearful after the hundreds of verses they have read? All this in the liberal mecca of New York City. So I could only despair at the ground situation in closed and conservative societies. If the parents in this liberal mecca can threaten to murder and/or commit suicide, what must be parents teaching their children in these other nations. Or why would anyone be surprised at the honor killings? If I could count how many times my female friends from this society have said “my parents will kill me” when I ask them why aren’t they pursuing this or that they clearly like. It seems as a joke, but I wish it was a joke. I was despairing how people create the concept of “otherness” and sin, and act confused when someone commits violence against these others. Then they go on social media claiming we or our flying spaghetti monster never condones violence. Show me how we can create others, teams, groups, and a superiority complex combined with a victim mentality – and how none of this can lead to violence – and I will give you the award for being the smartest person ever born in this universe. I was despairing for humanity. I couldn’t see light because most, not just the majority, were still living in denial with their heads buried deep in the sand.

But I cannot exist without hope. It would be criminal of me to ignore the few who dare to speak up. Over the last year or so two people have spoken to me – “there are a lot of crazy stuff in this book”, and “a lot of this doesn’t make sense”. Two people who had a different tune over the years are starting to open up. There are a couple others who really do not know what is written on a piece of paper, but once it was shown to them, disagreed with any intolerance or prejudice. These women are the heroes and the faces of hope and change. I read Pakistani English newspapers, which naturally have a liberal slant because it is read mostly by the highly educated young people – who naturally have a liberal outlook on life. And more and more writers (who tend to be young) are starting to question the intolerance in their society. Earlier, terrorists were called “unbelievers” by their apologists. I used to think – hey wait a minute, I am an unbeliever and these terrorists should not be labeled with me!! Today, a few are starting to label these terrorists for who they are, radical extremists. Few are openly starting to question their theological leaders. Instead of saying my flying spaghetti monsters treats others with respect, they are openly saying we should respect every human no matter what piece of paper says what. We should stand for humanity over beliefs. Maybe a paper calls homosexuality a sin, and if so, maybe the paper is wrong. These young educated people give me hope. But these voices have existed in the liberal pages of newspapers. But to start seeing them in my own life, where prejudice and intolerance is becoming uncomfortable for some people in my generation gives me great hope. None of these friends are atheists. But they have managed to combine their spirituality with their humanity. Only thing I can tell them is “thanks” and tip my hat. In these darkest of times, they give me hope. And in this war of ideas, rather than criticizing the stupidity of the majority, I have to magnify the voices of these few individuals. They are the future, and they are our hope for a change.

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