BBCCNN, and other news channels are covering the heroic self-sacrifice of a young Pakistani boy, who saved a few hundred school aged children from a terrorist bomber.

Aitzaz Hussain, the Pakistani martyr-hero

Aitzaz Hussain, the Pakistani martyr-hero from Pakistani social media

According to the news sources, Aitzaz Hussain (also listed as Aitazaz Hassan Bangash) and his friends were playing outside the school when they noted the suicide bomber approaching the school.    Aitzaz (a large boy for his age) confronted the suicide bomber and captured him, thus preventing the bomber from entering the school.   The suicide bomber detonated his bombs, killing himself and Aitzaz instantly.

His cousin put the events into narrative:

The suicide bomber wanted to destroy the school and school students. It was my cousin who stopped him from this…destruction.   So he told them “I’m going to stop him. He is going to school to kill my friends.”

He wanted to capture this suicide bomber. He wanted to stop [him]. Meanwhile the suicide bomber blasted himself which resulted in the death of my cousin….

Grief, condolences, and a bittersweet pride dominate Pakistani news coverage today.

The word “hero” comes up often.  Even Malalai Yousafzai offered her condolences.

There are Twitter campaigns to honor Aitzaz:  #onemillionaitzazs and #aitzaz.

Close-up of Aitzaz Hussain

Close-up of Aitzaz Hussain Pakistani social media

We are told there were some 2,000 school-age children in Aitzaz’s school.
His self-sacrifice could have well saved the lives of hundreds of children.

In a place like Pakistan, which is coming undone at the seams through the Talibanization of society and sectarian violence, not to mention the unrelenting American drone wars with its thousands of casualties, these heroic self-sacrifices offer people a sense of relief, of hope, of courage, of the possibility of each of us living a life greater and grander than our own individual being.

And yet…

I wonder if someone who stopped an American drone from bombing Pakistanis would be celebrated as a hero, or arrested as breaking a law?   In celebrating the lives saved today by Aitzaz, who mourns the 2,537 to as many as 3,646 people killed by American drones in Pakistan? 

I wonder if in celebrating this type of “heroic” action, we are not closing another type of possibility.  I wonder if in confronting evil unto the price of one’s own life, we are not forgetting about a less dramatic type of heroic action, an alternate heroic life, where Aitzaz and the millions of Aitzazs in Pakistan and in every country would have grown up to be men and fathers, gotten married and had children, worked diligently to support their families, and hugged their children. I wonder about the heroic sacrifice of mothers there, and here, and everywhere, who carry on the ordinary poetry of their lives.   We pause to honor the soldiers and the martyrs, and well we should.  I too pause to honor Aitzaz and the decision he made in that single moment to be great by doing something greater than himself, to put the welfare of others before his own well-being.

I simply wonder about the world we are passing on to our children where ordinary, everyday heroism is less and less valued.   I wonder about a world in which heroism is intertwined with death, as opposed to being measured in the small, mundane acts of goodness and beauty by, among and for the living.

May our lives be great, not just by overcoming suicide bombers, but rather by participation in creation of a world without suicide bombers, without occupation, without drones, without war, without poverty.     May our children and their-as-of-yet-unborn children live in a world where greatness is measured in the extent of their love and service.

And may all of us be participants in making it so.



  1. Aitzaz Hussain, a great hero to be remembered.

    Like Malala Yousefzai, a symbol of humanity and decency – and an example of defiance against religion’s fundamental barbarism.

  2. I was fine with this article until you mentioned a world without occupation. What exactly are you referring to? Is that even part of the story? Occupation by suicide bombers in Pakistan or are we talking about the USA occupation via using drones or are you referring to Israel’s presence in the Middle East/ Because the latter has nothing to do with a suicide bomber killing fellow Muslims and to suggest so is unfair. I am very sorry that the world has come to this but you can not blame Israel or even the United States of America for suicide bombers.

    • Omid Safi

      Dear Diane,
      It’s a general and universal prayer: may all poverty be alleviated, may all war be ended, may all occupation be ended, may all suffering be brought to an end.
      No, Israel does not have anything to do with suicide bombing in Pakistan.
      Yes, Israel is currently occupying the West Bank, otherwise known as the Occupied Palestinian territories. Has been since 1967. And Yes, I do pray for the ending of that occupation, and the restoration of a meaningful peace and justice among Palestinians and Israelis.
      ps. I didn’t blame the United States for suicide bombings. I do hold us responsible for drones.

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