Did the Taliban overplay their hand when they shot a 14-year-old Pakistani girl simply because she wanted to go to school? We can only hope.
Just when you think the militant Islamic Taliban movement can’t sink any lower, you hear another story as deplorable and cowardly as the shooting of Malala Yousufzai. As the world knows by now, Taliban gunmen shot and critically wounded her in a recent assassination attempt as she was coming home from school in Pakistan’s battle-scarred Swat Valley.
Recently, before she was transferred in critical condition to a British hospital that specializes in battle injuries, spokesmen for Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban, boldly announced that, if she survives, they will try to kill her again.
Her crime? Advocating for the education of girls. Questioning the Taliban’s sexist reading of Sharia law, the Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan organization told media in an Oct. 10 letter, made Yousufzai guilty of leading a “campaign against Islam.”
In fact, she led no such thing, but the Taliban are too fanatical to see the difference. The letter accuses Malala, who gained global fame through an online diary that she wrote for the BBC, of being “pro-West,” promoting Western culture, and “inviting Muslims to hate mujahideen,” the Taliban term for holy warriors.
In fact, the Taliban, who helped give birth to al-Qaida next door in Afghanistan, have made it easy for the world to hate them. This time, they have gone too far for their own good.
Even the usually timid, indifferent and corruption-riddled Pakistani national government has been shaken out of its usual lethargy toward Taliban encroachments in the Swat Valley.
Thousands of young people and families have poured into the streets of Pakistan and elsewhere around the globe, some of them holding up photos of the girl and wearing “I am Malala” T-shirts.
She was a very special girl, even at age 11, when Taliban fighters swept into her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009. As later documentaries by The New York Times and other media show, she spoke out against their ban on educating girls. Her father ran one of the last schools to defy the Taliban orders. He eventually was forced to close the school and Malala was forced to flee to Abbottabad, better known to Americans as the town where Osama bin Laden was killed.
Soon she was writing an anonymous blog for the BBC and receiving honors, including a National Youth Peace Prize from Pakistan’s then-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
The Taliban warned her to hush up. But she refused. So on Oct. 9, masked gunmen approached her school bus and asked for her by name. Then they shot her in the head and neck.
The shooting of this one bright, articulate teen captures our attention and the Taliban’s cowardice in ways that thousands of other Taliban atrocities do not. As Frida Ghitis, author of The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television, recently wrote, the Taliban are afraid of Malala “because she is not afraid of them.”
In the past, this sort of media-driven outrage sometimes has shaken the government into taking productive action. Three years ago a chilling cellphone video of a woman being held down and flogged more than 30 times in Swat Valley by Taliban made international news. Her crime: being seen in public talking to a man to whom she was not married. Just talking.
That video was shocking enough to spur widespread outrage and military action that pushed the Taliban out of the valley, some all the way to rural Afghanistan.
But the Taliban slowly returned and Pakistani authorities are now on the move again, making more than 100 arrests related to the attack on Malala, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told CNN recently.
Khar, the first woman to hold the job, called Malala’s shooting a “wakeup call.” Pakistan government apparently needs to be woken up. Even as the country’s top general rushed to Malala’s bedside, Pakistan still harbors Afghan Taliban leaders who want to take over Afghanistan after U.S. troops leave. Malala’s problem, the Taliban, is our problem, too.
CLARENCE PAGE’s column is distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.