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Is your family OK?”

If one were to scan the list of texts in my phone’s inbox, this would be the most common message of all.

In the past month, my hometown of Peshawar, Pakistan, has been hit by an onslaught of violence caused by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organization that comprises some of the most radical and violent militant groups in the region. On the morning of Oct. 28, when I was making the trek home after an all-nighter in the library, 105 people were killed in one of the biggest terrorist attacks the city has ever seen.

Every time I check the news, something new has occurred – not just in Peshawar, but all over Pakistan – a shootout, a rocket attack, a suicide bombing. Each time, I can do nothing but wait helplessly for a phone call from my family, who reassure me that things are OK.

It gives me the most surreal feeling when I see news videos depicting the market I used to regularly visit stained with the blood of the dead and injured after an attack; or to see a photo of the wedding hall in which so many relatives were married reduced to smithereens after a suicide bombing; or knowing that the school I attended as a child might be shutting down because of its proximity to targeted army headquarters; or that my best friend attends a college that has received bomb threats for allowing men and women to study together. While I make my way to the Intercultural Center for class, it is hard for me to fathom that my friend is walking to her class back in Peshawar at great personal risk.

any people are sympathetic when they hear about the situation in Pakistan, but they also acknowledge that they don’t fully understand what it’s like. To tell you the truth, even I don’t fully understand what it’s like over there – that is perhaps the hardest thing I must deal with.

Whenever something bad happens back home, my fear and anxiety for my loved ones is matched by guilt – for not being there with them through the hard times, for not being able to share their pain and their fears and, especially, for being safe when they’re not. When I see a familiar street with debris from a bombing covered in puddles of red, I cannot perceive it as a reality – something out of an apocalyptic movie, yes, but certainly not the city streets I grew up traversing in times much better than these.

Having grown up in one of the best times in Peshawar, both security-wise and culture-wise, it is painful to imagine that some of the younger generations will remember it solely as a city of strife. Who knows if they will ever experience a Pakistan vs. England cricket match at Arbab Niaz Stadium, or ask (a rather tanned) Santa Claus at the U.S. Consulate for presents, or ride the Khyber Steam Train Safari to Landi Kotal and tour the area around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with Australian tourists – the amount of exposure and cultural exchange that I benefited from in my childhood may never be available to some of my younger cousins in Peshawar.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s war of ideas, more so than its violent terrorist tactics, has forever changed the face of Peshawar. It was once a city bustling with a culture of its own, but religious indoctrination now governs the cultural norms of the people – indoctrination that comes, however, at the mercy of extremist and erroneous interpretation. Female faces on billboards get blacked out in the middle of the night, the windows at the local (and only) KFC have been shattered by rocks more times than I can count and college principals get frightening phone calls forcing them to require the wearing of headscarves by all female students.

The Talibanization of my city has been frightening – secular and scholarly thinking is scorned, artistic expression is considered sinful and progress is seen as a Western invasion by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leaders, and it is this brand of thinking they want to imprint upon the people of my city.

What gives me hope is the resilience of the people of Peshawar. Too many of them are unfazed by mental intimidation – especially some of the youth, including my best friend – and they continue on the rocky path of becoming educated and cultured individuals against the odds. The onslaught of suicide attacks on the city has slowed it down, but has not brought it to a halt. Peshawaris are too full of life – they can’t stay locked up in their homes for too long, even with the fears of an unexpected attack occurring anywhere at any time. After a while, the shops reopen, the rickshaws return to the streets, and the people of Peshawar trudge through the path of destruction left by the bombings and get back on their feet.

The spirit of Peshawar has never suffered so many blows before, yet I have faith in my city and in the people of my city. The spirit of Peshawar can never be broken.

Hijab Shah is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. She can be reached at shahthehoya.com. Behind the Veil appears every other Friday.

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