And they are those who are afraid of little girls?
They seem, fittingly to dislike education and enlightenment.
They claim to be following the commands of God,
Who commands us to seek learning!
That is one command they blithely ignore.
Kishwar Naheed, Pakistani Poet
The shooting of Malala Yousufzai, a young student activist and blogger has been widely condemned as a cowardly, dastardly, and belligerent act of the Taliban. It increasingly speaks to the lengths to which one militant organization can go to further its agenda. Not only was Malala, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, something of an ultimate soft target, but she was also apprehended in a school bus, filled with students who were just as defenseless. At least 2 other girls were wounded in the shooting. Now she is in critical condition and the extent of damage to her brain is unknown.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that claimed responsibility for the attack is unrepentant, stating that “She was young, but she was promoting Western culture in Pashtun areas.” TTP labels anyone, man, woman or child, weak or strong, rich or poor as wajib ul qatal—deserving of death—if he or she compromises the teachings of the Quran or insults the Prophet. In Malala’s case, she was guilty of spreading secular thought through her blog and her defiance of the ban on attending school in Swat, before the military operation and when extremists groups had taken over. In the TTP’s interpretation, each and every one of us is wajib ul qatal.
The nature of the target makes this crime all the more barbaric and heinous, but it speaks to the new and increasingly desperate agenda of TTP, an organization that is beleaguered by condemnation from all sides. Responses to Malala’s shooting are very telling of a greater consciousness of Pakistanis. No one in their right mind would praise such an act, but in the past, Pakistanis have been divided over similar actions like the killing of Salman Taseer. We have had enough. And “we” does not just mean the liberal English-speaking lot. Over 50 ulema or members of the Sunni Ittehad Council have issued a fatwa or edict against the attack. Interestingly enough, even Jamat ud D’awah, classified by the United States as a terrorist organization, took to Twitter in condemning the attack.
Unanimous condemnation is necessary at this time, as extremist and sectarian groups ramp up attacks on weaker parties and minority groups. Earlier this year, a 14-year-old Christian girl was jailed after accusations that she desecrated the Quran. She was released on bail when the case against her fell apart and it was discovered that a local cleric in her village planted evidence against her. Prominent clerics came out stating that they were ashamed of such an incident, especially when it was discovered that the girl had Down Syndrome.
In most parts of the world, such cases are unthinkable. The TTP, among other extremist organizations in Pashtun-speaking regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, have resorted to the worst means possible to further their agendas. But to some relief, these means have begun to awaken Pakistanis to the reality of the threat. Liberal- or conservative-minded, our fundamental freedoms and lives are at stake if we do not roundly condemn brutalities like the one committed against Malala Yusufzai. Pakistan’s biggest barrier to ending this threat is the specter of anti-American absolutism: a common excuse for trampling on others. Shoot the girl because she admires Obama, stop giving children polio drops, because the United States will not stop the drones. It’s taken until now for many Pakistanis to recognize the perversity of this logic.
Never before in Pakistan’s history has a young girl been such a unifying force in the face of a threat. Malala is fighting for her life. The rest of us can only express our outrage through condemnation, whether it is through tweeting, or changing our Facebook profile pictures or even just by writing. Her image and her example act as a reminder that we fight for Malala and the girls who risk their lives everyday for something as basic as the right to go to school.