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Crime is on the rise; it’s expected in a recession economy. In fact, it’s on the rise everywhere. If it’s mentioned, it’s almost a conversational aside. Like bad manners, we have come to accept it as a part of life. We express a momentary shock and dismay, and then move on to the next topic. Suffering crime is like a random tax we expect to pay at different times in our lives. Maybe we don’t make too much fuss about crime because there is such an unjust disparity between the Haves and Have Nots. Are we assuaging ourselves of the guilt of an accidental luck of birth when we ignore petty theft? Instead, what does linger in our minds and consciences is the horror of terrorism. Terrorism is the new kid on the block. Terrorism is truly unjust. Terrorism is something we have to fight against.

Today I went to the re-opening of the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad. After an amazing rebuilding effort, it has re-opened just months after the devastating bomb blast which not only destroyed the building, but killed over fifty innocent people, injured many, and shook the whole nation. The re-opening was a deeply emotional experience for the people of the Capital. It was a sign of resilience in adversity and a testament to the staff who work there and to the owners who never gave up. Let’s hope it ushers in a better 2009.

Being able to rebuild sends a positive message about Pakistan’s strength as a nation. Despite the challenges we face daily, we always make a come back. For our small city, it was a symbol of triumph.

The family and the hotel management were welcoming friends and visitors who were attending the launch as a show of solidarity. For many of us it was the first time after the bomb blast that we had the opportunity to see the familiar faces of many of the staff, the ubiquitous tall doormen, the trusted valets. There was also a memorial commemorating the tragic loss of lives of the bomb victims. With photographs, candles and flowers, in the centre of the hall, this was not just a decorative altar for the day; a trust fund has been set up to provide for the families of the bomb victims and for the education of their children.

I’ve lived in Islamabad for almost twenty years and this hotel has very much been the axis of people’s lives in this city. People begin their married lives here, signing their nikah namahs and taking their marital vows. In fact my first memory of the place was when I attended my sister’s poolside valima in 1983. It’s a place for networking and connecting. Deals are made. If walls could talk what stories would they tell! For the residents of Islamabad, as well as being a place for the important events of our lives, it’s also woven into the mundane: like going to the bakery, or popping into the gym or the salon.

Like other Islamabad residents I’ve never stayed there but for six weeks after 9/11, I was on a work assignment and spent a lot of time there. All the global news networks flew in to cover the story from the Pakistan/Afghanistan angle. I worked as a stringer for NBC News; it was an intense assignment designed for a high energy, resilient young man: certainly not for a mother of two, so within weeks I was burning out and wanted my routine life. However, during that time I peeped behind the scenes at hotel management, up close. The hotel worked at a brimful capacity, with news agencies setting up temporary offices with their fax machines and computers in corridors. The hotel staff worked around the clock to meet sometimes wholly unreasonable tantrums of famous news correspondents. Meals were served at odd hours on the rooftop through a maze of wires, technical equipment, and camera crews of dozens of competing channels as they fed stories to live satellite news-links overseas. Through all this, the staff managed whatever task was at hand with the hospitality that Pakistanis are famous for. 9/11 was when everything changed globally. It wasn’t easy.

As a city we’re delighted to have the hotel reopen, not just so we have a place to hang out, but because of what it means to stand up in the fight against terrorism. The walls outside are higher; they are thicker too. They have been built to be bomb proof. They have been built to protect.

We all watch the news and read the papers these are turbulent times politically. Troubled times; just as prices are rising, crime is on the rise too. So we’re reading about heightened tensions, anti-aircraft missiles on government buildings. I live in the countryside where there is no sound of traffic so every day, all day I can hear jets circling above the city. Pakistan is not the place it used to be before 9/11. Even at home, our walls are higher, and our skin is thicker.

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