Hundreds Gather On Coney Island Avenue For Vigil In Wake Of Peshawar School Attack
Standing in front of a poster that read “the smallest coffins are the heaviest,” neighbor Tahir Rajput glanced at the sea of candles behind him and, like so many others at Wednesday night’s vigil for the victims of the horrific attack in Peshawar, Pakistan that killed at least 132 school children, said it was impossible to find the words to describe the pain he felt.
“My kids went to that army school,” Rajput, a retired Army officer from Pakistan, said in reference to Peshawar’s Army Public School, where nine Taliban gunmen murdered at least 145 people, including 132 students who ranged in age from about 5 to 17, during an eight-hour massacre on Tuesday. “They could have been my children.”
Rajput was one of hundreds of people who gathered in the heart of Brooklyn’s Pakistani community at 1090 Coney Island Avenue for Wednesday’s vigil, which drew people from throughout the tri-state area, as well as the Consul General of Pakistan Raja Ejaz and numerous elected officials, including Borough President Eric Adams, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblyman Jim Brennan, and Council Members Jumaane Williams and Mathieu Eugene, among others. Police from the 70th Precinct and the NYPD’s Patrol Borough Brooklyn South also attended the gathering.
“Innocent children have been massacred,” Ejaz said. “…Our heart goes out to all the victims, particularly for the parents who’ve lost their children.”
Numerous people at the event, many of whom were from Pakistan, stressed the importance of the international community supporting their home country – and particularly remembering, as Imam Ghulam Rasul said, that “Islam’s teachings are totally based on kindness, on mercy, on benevolence.”
“Islam and Muslims are the ones who’ve become the victims of terrorism,” the Imam continued. “These Taliban – they have nothing to do with Islam, with Pakistan, with the tolerant nature of the Pakistani nation. We are here to condemn the hate.”
As news spread of Tuesday’s horror, with many in Brooklyn’s Pakistani community receiving word about the violence via social media, including from family members and friends living in Pakistan, neighbors said they were in complete shock as they watched gruesome images appear on screens before them.
“This hit very close to home – I have personally witnessed a bomb blast going off and killing students in a bus in Pakistan – it blew off the road right in front of my eyes,” said neighbor Farrukh Anwar, who is now seeking asylum with his family in the U.S. after being kidnapped by the Taliban in July 2012. After he was kidnapped, he was given a deadline of several weeks to leave his country forever.
Anwar, who worked for the United Nations in Pakistan from 2002 to 2012 and, like Rajput, is a member of the Pakistani-American group One Nation Us, said he believes this massacre will galvanize the Pakistani government and army to drive the Taliban from his home – but he said there needs to be “international pressure and support in terms of finance to curb this terrorism.”
Ahsan Chughtai, who grew up in the area’s Pakistani community and helped to organize the vigil, said the event was crucial to give people space to mourn.
“You feel helpless and feel like what can you do?” he said. “People, they wanted to get together and grieve.”
“This is what this is all about – from Brooklyn to Peshawar, we say no violence,” Brooklyn Borough President Adams said of the vigil, holding a sign made by a neighbor.
As neighbors continued to grip their candles and wipe away tears, Imam Maqsood Qadri ended the vigil by saying, “the Quran said if you kill one person, it is as though you are killing all of humanity. You save one life; you save all of humanity.”
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