A month ago, I had never heard of Malala Yousafzai. I had known about the people who shot her, of course. The Taliban are notorious for their misogynistic policies. From forcing women into burqas to banning women from school, one must wonder at the deep-seated fear the Talibans have of women. The Taliban see women as a source of sexual depravity: for example, male doctors not allowed to treat female patients unless a chaperone was present. Such is their warped minds, projecting (and I do insinuate projection!) such a pessimistic view on the world.
They probably never expected someone like Malala.
Malala started her activism at a young age. She was already an experienced office bearer by the time she was 14 (Chair of Swat’s District Child Assembly from 2009-2011) and was a pseudonymous blogger for the BBC no less at the age of 12! This was probably due to the influence of her father who himself is a poet, school owner and education activist. The complete opposite to the Taliban, he encouraged her to become a politician from an early age although she wanted to become a doctor instead. Now, fate may have fulfilled her father’s dream after all.
On 9 October 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban terrorist. He simply boarded the bus she was riding home (most poetically, after taking an exam) and asked the passengers which of them was Malala. He threatened to shoot them all (they were all school children) if she wasn’t identified and I have no doubt this was no empty threat. When a terrified fellow pupil pointed her out, he shot her in cold blood. Once in the head and once in the shoulder.
One must take a moment to internalise the utter obscenity of this event. This was a child who was unarmed and was simply voicing her right to an education. This child was no threat to anyone unless of course, you are a sympathiser of the Taliban. The Taliban were far from apologetic. On the contrary, the district chief of the Taliban Ehsanullah Ehsan proudly claimed responsibility for the attack and declared that if she survived, they would target her again. For them she epitomised infidelity and western decadence. The way they described her, one would imagine she was involved in some deeply immoral activity yet all she was asking for was an education.
What followed next was a great uproar. I am not in Pakistan myself but what I saw on social networking sites was amazing. There were literally thousands of comments in support of Malala and in condemnation of the Taliban and their heinous act. This is how I first came to hear of Malala. Here’s what we need to ask though – why does it take a child to be shot in the head for us to be galvanised in this way? The Taliban have been spreading this hateful form of Islam for over twenty years and we had already seen what they were capable of more than enough times before.
What we need to do is to take stock of ourselves and ask – why do we still tolerate the presence of the Taliban? I believe a silent majority of Muslims despise what the Taliban have done and yet fear to speak out because they have become convinced the Taliban ostensibly represents Islam in its ideal form, which they can never hope to attain. This is a misconception. The Taliban are as far from the essence of Islam as can be. Instead of promoting peace and harmony on earth as one would expect from people who claim to follow the Qur’an, they have now extended their repertoire of atrocities to attacks on unarmed children! Incidentally, the Taliban spokesmen claimed that the Qur’an orders them to combat people propagating against Islam and that this includes Malala’s activities. Words fail to capture my disbelief at the absurdity of such statements but I will say this – the Qur’an nowhere tells us to attack anyone for any view. People are free to propagate whatever they wish if they are doing so peacefully. Of course, for the Taliban who fear a battle of ideas, people like Malala are dangerous to their very existence.
Remarkably, Malala survived the attempt on her life and has vowed to continue. This time with burgeoning support behind her. There are, predictably, some who have come to see it all as a conspiracy against the Taliban! There are also those who voice concern that an attack upon one child by the Taliban has made headlines across the world, yet the countless children killed by drone attacks receive little if any attention. This view is not without its merits. One thing is clear, however: the Taliban have made a catastrophic mistake. Their attempt on Malala’s life could yet be the beginning of their end.
Farouk A. Peru is a Phd Candidate in Islam and Postmodernism and teaches Islamic Studies at King's College, London.