Taliban militants in Pakistan and elsewhere have demonstrated their cruelty in recent years in innumerable ways. Militants have cut off people’s hands, burned schools, beaten or killed people who don’t adhere to their dress code and executed officials who question blasphemy laws.
Little that Taliban militants have done, however, has attracted the world’s attention like their attempt to execute a 14-year-old school girl in the Swat Valley. They tried that on Tuesday, stopping a school bus and shooting the girl, Malala Yousafzai, in the head and neck and shooting at least one other student while they were on the way home from school. Miss Yousafzai has been operated on and is expected to live, though she will likely need further surgery.
The Taliban said they targeted her because she “promoted secularism.”
What she has done – since she was 11 years old — was write, under the pen-name Gul Makai, a journal for BBC Urdu about what life has been like for her, her family and friends under the Taliban. She also has spoken publicly about the importance of educating girls in Pakistan. Girls and boys must grow up quickly in some parts of the world.
When the Taliban, which were driven out of the valley in 2009, controlled the Swat Valley, they enforced strict Islamic law, banned the playing of music in cars and closed girls’ schools, among other measures.
Not surprisingly, Miss Yousafzai has picked up quite a following, both in Pakistan and outside of her country, sometimes writing about mundane topics such as homework but also commenting on artillery explosions in the distance, the temptation to wear colorful clothes despite the restrictions, and saying that her father told her he was proud to hear talk about her diary but had to be careful not to identify his daughter as the writer.
And no wonder. A spokesman for the militants told BBC Urdu that if Miss Yousafzai survives, she would be targeted again.
If there is reason for optimism, it is that the attack on her has sparked outrage not just among Pakistanis, including some sympathetic to the Taliban, but internationally. And although Miss Yousafzai may never be safe in her home country again, it is worth noting that the Taliban are worried enough about the impact of an adolescent’s thoughts on life under their rule to want her silenced the only way they know how.
Shehryar Tasser, whose father, a Punjab governor, was murdered last year for objecting to harsh blasphemy laws, took to Twitter Tuesday to call the Taliban “cowards afraid of a teenage girl.”
What the Taliban, so quick to resort to violence to quell independent thought, don’t realize is that Malala Yousafzai isn’t alone. Far from it. The Taliban can silence opposition where they find it, but it will take more than violence to win popular support, as one brave young girl’s journal demonstrates.