On Wednesday morning, I woke to the disturbing news that a blast had rung out from the heart of Lahore, the populous Pakistani city I call home. Hurriedly turning to a local channel where the news was beginning to break, I learned that a suicide bombing had reduced a police station, the operating room of a nearby hospital and a local branch of the Pakistani intelligence agency to rubble. This was the third terrorist attack in three months. It reminded me of the last time an attack had struck the ordinarily peaceful city. I had been in Ann Arbor then, frantically trying to call home and scouring websites for details of the attack. But the painful feeling of helplessness was eased this time, for I was here in Pakistan — in the midst of the madness.

The awful feeling of helplessness and uncertainty in the face of tragic news at home reflects perhaps the greatest challenge for international students. Wednesday’s explosion shook Lahore’s commercial district. Someone close to me could have been hurt by the malicious attack, and if I were in Ann Arbor I wouldn’t have been able to rush to the person’s side.

When Mumbai, India similarly fell victim to a squad of brazen terrorists in November last year, the University aptly recognized the possible impact of the incident on the student community. It was quick to support a student-led initiative for a candlelight vigil on the Diag. The University’s swift institutional support for the vigil provided necessary solace to those that stood mourning at the vigil with horrified glances and silent tears. But Mumbai is not the only place to fall victim to terrorism — something I was reminded of on Wednesday.

When news of the Mumbai attacks broke, the international students from India were distraught. I watched my Indian friends sitting glued to their television screens. Only when the final death tolls from Mumbai trickled in and the siege ended a day later could they breathe freely. I could sympathize. A month earlier, I had sat in disbelief as reports emerged of a suicide bombing at a naval academy near my high school. For those whose lives revolved around the areas besieged by terrorists, the vigil — and the University administration’s and the general student body’s support — provided much-needed comfort.

The University’s timely response set an important precedent. Perhaps the dramatic events that led to the attacks being dubbed “India’s 9/11” or the sight of marauding terrorists added to the turnout at the vigil. But as the Indians wept in mourning, the University wept with them. Standing with a lit candle at the memorial and watching students line up on the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library to read aloud the names of victims, I was awestruck that some 200 students had braved the bitter cold to grieve with the Indian community. Tragedies on the international stage often affect the University’s diverse student population, rendering institutional support like this not merely desirable, but necessary.

The heartwarming solidarity on display at the Mumbai vigil should not remain stuck in that moment. The University’s reaction to the Mumbai attacks should set a precedent for future tragedies. If tomorrow, for example, an unfortunate earthquake — similar to the one that jolted China’s Sichuan region last year — claims the lives of thousands, the international students in Ann Arbor affected by the tragedy should be assured of similar support from the University.

Sadly, the siege of Mumbai was not the last tragedy to shake the student body or the world at large. Condemning terrorism and remembering the unnecessary loss of life in Mumbai was the easiest and most proper stance for the University to take, and one that I hope becomes standard procedure in the wake of future tragedies. Failure to reiterate that concern would show indifference to suffering, particularly because students at the University are directly impacted.

Emad Ansari can be reached at heansari@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.