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Angered by sectarian strife and government inaction to curb it, Pakistanis have hailed a teenager who died after wrestling a suicide bomber to the ground and averted a likely mass killing at his school.
Journalists, bloggers, community members, and observers are calling for the student to be awarded top honors in Pakistan for his bravery, and some have even compared him to Malala Yousafzai, the teen girl in Pakistan who was shot and almost killed by the Taliban for attending school and later became an international household name. Many had expected she would win this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Aitzaz Hasan was running late for school on Monday when he and friends were interrupted by a stranger in school uniform who was asking for directions. Suspicious of the query, Aitzaz tackled the man as he walked away. The man then blew himself up, taking both lives.
“The other students backed off, but Aitzaz challenged the bomber and tried to catch him,” his cousin Musadiq Ali Bangash told CNN. “During the scuffle, the bomber panicked and detonated his bomb.”
At least 1,000 students attend the school targeted by the suicide bombing, reports the New York Times, in an area of northwestern Pakistan, which is a hotbed of sectarian violence. Pakistanis have rallied around the boy whose community includes many Shiites and has been frequently attacked by Taliban militants and Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
“We must honor him,” Nasim Zehra, a Pakistani journalist and talk show host, told the Times, calling earlier on her Twitter account for him to receive Pakistan's top military award. “This courageous teenager attempted to battle death. What gave him this confidence? Outrage? Parenting? Faith? From the bloodletting terrorism in Pakistan are emerging uniquely inspiring and iconic individuals like Malala and now Aitzaz Hasan.”
The case underscores the daily threats and government incapacity to stem violence along sectarian lines, despite continued efforts to stabilize the country. The Christian Science Monitor reported recently about an effort to crack down on hate speech to curb intra-faith violence, which was up 71 percent in 2012 from the previous year. In December, the CSM notes, "32 groups representing the major Islamic sects in Pakistan signed on to a code of conduct that prohibits hate speech against other sects, restricts the use of mosque loudspeakers, and bans incendiary literature and graffiti."
But, as Monitor correspondent Umar Farooq says, enforcement of the code is a challenge and intra-faith violence a daily threat: since the new year, a suicide bomber on Jan. 1 killed two Shia pilgrims on their way home from Iran; and two senior Sunni leaders were killed in Islamabad on Jan 3.
Many Pakistanis fed up with violence have channeled their energies into honoring Aitzaz. In today's Nation in Pakistan, an editorial is dedicated to the boy:
Most of us have already surrendered to the Taliban, at least in our hearts because we believe that nothing can stop an attack from taking place, unless fortune is on our side. The precious few that are still fighting are dropping like flies,” the editorial notes. “How many more children have to sacrifice themselves before we get a reality check? For the sake of Aitzaz and all the countless children that have been taken before their time, somebody from the government needs to take a page out of Aitzaz’s book and resist terrorists till they can no longer harm Pakistan.
Aitzaz has two sisters, according to local reports, and was well-loved in his village. The Express Tribune quoted his father, who works as a driver in United Arab Emirates, who said he returned home not to mourn his child's death but celebrate his life. “My son made his mother cry, but saved hundreds of mothers from crying for their children,” he told the paper.