On Wednesday, four gunmen attacked Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, Pakistan killing eighteen students and two professors and wounding almost two dozen others before they were gunned down by Pakistani troops. It wasn’t the first time. Little over a year ago, a similar mass shooting of a school in Peshawar left 145 people dead. 132 of the victims had been children.

It is a grim reminder that such massacres are hardly unique to the United States. However, the motive behind the mass shootings in Pakistan is different: they have been carried out by hard-right Islamic fundamentalists who are fighting their warped idea of a “holy war.” Their goal is to stop Western-style educational institutions from doing their job – especially educating girls and young women. The timing of the attack is also bitterly ironic: it came on the day Pakistanis honor one of their own national heroes, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who stood for non-violent resistance to British colonial control. Bacha Khan University was named in his honor.

Although a local splinter group of the Taliban claimed responsibility, Taliban leadership denied any involvement, calling the action “un-Islamic.” And so it is: the only violence condoned in the Koran is that used in the defense of one’s self and others; aggression is unequivocally condemned. One professor, Syed Hamid Husain, followed that exhortation to defend the innocent heroically when he drew his own pistol and began shooting at the attackers, drawing their fire away from his students. He saved many lives at the cost of his own.  One student remembered Professor Husain as “a real gentleman and a respectable teacher.”

The majority of Pakistanis consider this action to be an act of cowardice. Some blame their government for its failure to take action.  Khalid Muhammad, a defense analyst in Islamabad, posted the following message on a social media website:

“Watching these cowards attack…is infuriating. Targeting soft targets is to weaken the will of the people to fight…There must be no tolerance at any level, on any platform for the people that agree with this ideology in any shape or form…never again, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Interior minister. Do you job or get the hell out of office.”

Such actions in the name of God or Allah represent cowardice at its most contemptible. The attackers, in their determination to prevent the country from advancing into the 21st Century and keep their society in the Middle Ages, have no problem with murdering innocent young people whose only desire was to improve their minds in order to make their nation a better place for all. Not only have they violated their own Prophet’s teachings, they have turned the same people they wish to control with their own twisted version of religion against them. If any good can come out of a tragedy like this, it is that it exposes such fanatics for the murdering, cowardly psychotics they are – and it will force the country’s leaders to take stronger action against their kind.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues.