My Trip to Pakistan

Posted on December 7, 2017 By

by Rachel MacNair

I was invited to speak at the International Conference on Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Challenges and Resolution Strategies, held November 29-30, 2017 in Lahore, Pakistan. While there, I was also asked to give guest lectures at four different universities; I did two on psychological theories of why nonviolence is effective, and two on the trauma of killing.

Rachel with conference organizers. Left to right: Farah Malik, Shameem Fatima, Rachel MacNair, Farzana Ashraf


I was delighted for the opportunity, but then found I had friends and family who thought I was “brave” to go to Pakistan. And when I went to the US State Department’s webpage – just in order to see if there were any recommended medical shots – it told me that I should avoid going to Pakistan if I didn’t have to, because of all the terrorist attacks. It listed those attacks. That list looked remarkably similar to the list of terrorist attacks in the United States in the same time period.

When I mentioned that in one of my lectures, I got a round of applause. They naturally resent the unfair stereotypes, because everybody resents unfair stereotypes against them, especially such harsh ones. They also resent them since they are victims of terrorist attacks every bit as much as everybody else. And they’re every bit as much opposed to those attacks, for the same reasons as everybody else, along with a resentment at the twisting of their own religion by those attackers who claim to be Muslim.

I start by saying this because one of the major obstacles to peace is the fear of that which is not actually realistic to fear. The homicide rate in Lahore is actually one-fourth that in Kansas City, Missouri, where I live. We are all more in danger of dying in a car accident, so if we wish to fear something realistic, we can fear getting into a car. I have a friend who objects to me pointing these facts out, as if my doing so discounts her fears. But I insist, if we don’t have a realistic understanding of where actual danger lies, then peace cannot be attained. Irrational fears lead to irrational actions.

Meanwhile, one presentation in the breakout sessions was on the problem of current American racism, and Black people who are being terrorized by police shootings, among other things.

Keynote Speech

I gave the keynote speech, on the topic of Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress.  The speech started: “The first rule of establishing peace is that we want to convince people not to kill each other. Not in war, riots, lynching, executions, or any of the other socially-approved methods. We can make an appeal with ethics. We can explain how it is ineffective for achieving certain goals, or that there are better nonviolent ways of achieving those goals. But one other thing that we need to do is help people understand how the act of killing is traumatic to those who do it.”



While I didn’t mention the consistent life ethic explicitly (I had only one personal conversation about the ethic explicitly, which was a lengthy and highly satisfying one), but I did use examples from the different kinds of killing. Combat, executions, slavery, and abortion. The horrific violence of torture was also included.

It was a different experience from when I’ve used the same material for a US audience. It would commonly be the case in a US peace conference that the audience might show some discomfort when I applied the principle to abortion. Conversely, I might get positive enthusiasm from people who realized I was being consistent across the board. Here, however, abortion was simply taken as a reasonable thing to have on the list.

The biggest danger for anyone in a country other than their own is getting lost. There was never any possibility of that here. Whenever outside my room, I was always surrounded by friendly people who take pride in a well-deserved reputation for hospitality. Rather than move to a hotel after the conference, I was invited to stay in a private home, with delightful children. When I admired a painting on the wall, all of a sudden I found that it was gifted to me, and I now have it hanging up at home.

I was asked once, in jest, if I had met any terrorist there. In fact, I never met a single individual that I could even say was merely impolite, or in any way less than friendly. The constant warmth and welcome ensured that that my time in Pakistan was a wonderful experience.

Symposium, Government College University of Lahore



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  1. Carol Crossed says:

    Brilliant, Rachel. Such a rich experience not only for you, but for the participants of the University of Lahore.

  2. Sharon Beth Long says:

    I had a Pakistani boyfriend for 4 years. It was a great relationship in many ways

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