By LINDSEY ADKISON The Brunswick NewsLike so many, Zeeshan Safdar was horrified when he checked news reports on Easter Sunday.
That's when the former College of Coastal Georgia exchange student currently living in his native Lahore, Pakistan, discovered that a suicide bomber targeted a group of Christians — men, women and, mostly, children — frequenting Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park.
"I live about 10 miles away from the exact site of blast, although at the time of the blast I was about 2 miles away," he said. "I heard it on the news as soon as the blast occurred."
The attack killed 65 people and wounded more than 300. The bombing came less than a week after a coordinated attack between suicide bombers at an airport and an explosion at metro station in Brussels killed 32 people and wounded more than 200.
Like the Belgians less than a week ago, this time it was Safdar who was feeling the sadness, heartbreak and outrage. And those sentiments quickly swept across the city.
"There was a sudden panic followed by a lot of fear among the people. People literally just stayed indoors in the immediate aftermath. But as soon as an hour passed, there were calls from the government and hospitals for blood donations," he said.
Everyone — Christians and Muslims alike — answered that call, he said.
"To the utmost surprise of almost everyone, people responded immediately and the hospitals had to put up notices that they had more than enough blood," he said.
As another way to combat the hatred, the citizens of Lahore and throughout the region took to social media to share anti-terrorism messages of hope and solidarity.
"Social media — Facebook and WhatsApp primarily — played a great role in curbing away the message of hate which the terrorists had tried to portray in this attack — the famous one being, 'You Lost.' Christians and Muslims are donating blood which will be used on both. Our bond just got stronger. Humanity lives.
"The attacks have infuriated people to a great deal as once again children were targeted."
Safdar has a unique position to understanding the situation in Pakistan and as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department and a Muslim, he is always willing to share that message and to try to explain the complex and ever-changing landscape of the Mideast. He feels that creating a sense of divide between Christians and Muslims is exactly what the terrorists are hoping to create.
"The fact is that the majority of the Muslim population is condemning all these attacks be it in Turkey, Belgium, Paris, Nigeria, Pakistan or any other country in the world," he said.
"Unfounded fears have grown to such a degree that people mistrust the Muslims in general and this is leading to miscommunication and assumptions which is beneficial for the terrorists and damaging for humanity."
One response Safdar hopes to see both in his native land as well as abroad is a sense of unity rather than hatred. And he certainly has tried to lead by example. He studies at Forman Christian College University in Lahore, where he has many Christian friends and professors.
"A lot of my friends are Christians here and we share food, come together on joyous and sorrow moments, and above all are always there for each other," he said.
Sadfar said he found the same while attending College of Coastal Georgia. There, he was able to share insight about his religion and his country.
"The United States of America treated me really well and did lend me an ear so that I could clear my position. My personal view is that all the people whom I have met, in Southeast Georgia and even in almost nine other states I visited, did their best to understand about Islam and Muslim point of views on different issues first-hand from me," he said. "They even tried to clear their supposed misconceptions and I was ever ready to share all the information that I had. I never felt left out because of my religion. Furthermore, I had the great honor of dining with the president of College of Coastal Georgia, Dr. Aloia, and his wife too."
After having a near front row seat to the Lahore bombing, Sadfar remains more dedicated to the idea that communication and unity is the best way to defeat terrorism. That's true in America, Pakistan and around the world.
"The weapon the common person has to fight against terrorism is that they communicate and try to know from the people firsthand what they think. Communication is a big deterrent to the ideas of the militants and can destroy their ideology if the common people start to understand each other and root out the misconceptions," he said.
"The terrorists were once human and something led them to forgetting that. So communication can root out that something and save humanity ... to quote (the college's) professor Clint Brady, 'Every person in the world wants a peaceful life,'" he said.