The Stranger

The StrangerInterfaith Connections
Artwork by: Eleanor Bennett

The stranger can’t be trusted. The stranger is inhospitable and dangerous.

Pakistan is a developing nation, and a large percentage of the population faces poverty and struggles to earn an income. These people are hungry and poor, which can provoke anger and bitterness amongst them. The literacy rate in Pakistan is just over 50 percent, which means that almost half the population can’t even spell their names, rendering most of them unemployable and unable to provide their families with the basic necessities.

The frustration among these people can trigger them to break social boundaries and laws. They resort to kidnapping, mugging, and robbing people who possess money. They make this crime a source of income, since apparently it’s an easy thing to do. These criminals are never caught and punished. For this reason, mugging has become an issue faced on a regular basis in Pakistan — and the conditions are only getting worse.

I was 14 when I was mugged. I was with my mother and my sister that day; we were in an empty street with only a few houses scattered around the area. My sister was doing an art project on that street for her school, but I was dubious about going there from the get-go.

Two men crossing the street halted their motorbike behind us. They got off and hid behind a tree, which stood on the surrounding bleak land. Their behavior was suspicious. They started wandering the street, observing our actions. My mom decided that we should leave since it was evident that the intentions of the two men were to do harm. I could sense that they were getting closer to us, and before we even sat in the car, they took out their guns and pointed them at our heads.

Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down at your destined death — that is how I felt. My mind became vacant. I had never experienced being so close to death. The gun was loaded, its bullet ready to pierce through my head and end my life. We gave them everything we had, including a part of our souls, and they left.

I’m one of thousands of Pakistanis who have undergone this terrifying experience. The man who pointed the gun at my head, who was powerful enough to put an end to my life in an instant, was the stranger.

He’s not one, he’s a whole group. They stroll the streets of my city, making looting a regular practice. While my family and I were left physically unharmed (though mentally tormented), in many other incidents, the victims are shot and abused. The consequences are usually fatal. In some cases, victims are kidnapped and family members are expected to pay a large ransom for their release. It seems like playing with human emotions is another way of obtaining money.

It upsets me how trivial the value of a life has become. A friend of mine was shot and killed over a mobile phone. The phone was more valuable than his life. I believe any person with even the slightest sense of morality would realize that a mobile phone, with a price attached to it, is not greater than a human life. How can we call these people normal? They have no humanity left in them.

It’s very easy to take away someone’s life, but the pain it places upon the family members is unimaginable. Why then does it happen? Why has the value of life come to mean so little?

"Why has the value of life come to mean so little?"

Perhaps the sense of morality, mercy, love, and everything we attach to humanity, is eradicated from the hearts of those who are starving. The desperation to survive is so supreme that they resort to these acts of inhumanity. And when they succeed, it seems so easy that they make it routine.

I don’t believe any normal person would raise their child by telling them that a mobile phone is more valuable than human life. The poor, however, are pressured to grow up and earn money to support their family. It is ingrained in their mind that money is everything, since they’ve been deprived of it. When they realize that they can get money by valuing it more than a human life, I believe that they wash away their understanding of morality. With no humanity left in such people, I don’t believe they should be referred to as humans. They have no identity, they are inhumane, and to me, they are the stranger. The government is largely to blame for this. If such a large population of our country weren’t facing poverty, this might not be the case.

How can we trust the stranger? In my experience, the stranger has proven time and time again that he has no consideration for human life. The stranger cannot be stopped by anyone, even the police, because his roots have grown into the soil of our country. When your own life has so little value, you become protective over it. A normal person would go out to be around family and friends on a Saturday night, but my mother, for example, would prefer to stay at home. Not because she’s anti-social, but because of the fear engendered within her after a gun was pointed at her face.

As a child, I was told to respect the poor and not to discriminate against them. However, now, when a person wearing shoddy clothes stands next to me, I tremble. I fear that he could be the stranger. I don’t feel the same way about a well-dressed person, and I wasn’t brought up to have this bias. I have never felt that it was right to discriminate, but these are now my instincts.

Discriminating against the poor seems unjust. They are not all criminals. They struggle to survive and their problems are much greater than mine. Corrupt people are present everywhere, among rich and the poor alike. Then why do I discriminate only against the poor population? Because of the strangers I talk about and live amongst.

Poverty doesn’t just affect those who face it. It affects the entire population. Not just because of economic reasons, but because victims of poverty make those who don’t face poverty their victims. They don’t just steal from those who earn — they kill them.

I long for the day when I can walk the streets of my city again, not having to worry about encountering the stranger. Human life is not supposed to have a monetary value attached to it. Unfortunately, these days, that term has been taken too literally.

Mohammad Mustafa Khan studies at the Haque Academy in Pakistan, and is currently in grade 11, doing O levels. His hobbies include researching, traveling, reading, and helping the community. He loves watching movies and is president of the Film Club at his school.