Malala Yousafzai

In 2009 the Taliban took over an area in northwest Pakistan, among other things closing girls' schools. One remarkable 11-year-old student named Malala Yousafzai, the daughter of a teacher, wrote a diary for the BBC about life under the Taliban. Later, after the Taliban were driven out and schools reopened, she became a nationally known advocate for educating girls and women, despite being only 14, and even when the Taliban threatened her.

Then this past Tuesday afternoon a Taliban thug shot her in the head and neck in front of other students in a school van. Other girls were wounded in the attack, at least one seriously. Malala Yousafzai is in critical condition, but she still lives.

A broad range of people across Pakistan and throughout the world have reacted with outrage to the attempted murder of a young woman who simply wanted an education for herself and for others like her.

The Washington Post reports:

In a country where militant attacks occur almost daily, the Taliban’s attempted assassination of a 14-year-old education rights activist in northwestern Pakistan united Pakistanis from across social divides Wednesday in a remarkable and rare display of collective outrage against extremism.

The shooting Tuesday of Malala Yousafzai, who remains in critical condition in a Peshawar military hospital, brought condemnation from conservative clerics, secular politicians, the military and media figures at a time when Pakistanis had seemed almost numb to rising extremism.

More than 3,000 people died last year in extremist attacks here, but images of the bandaged, unconscious teenager prompted a national debate about the corrosive impact of Talibanization.

[...]

The country’s top military leader, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the girl’s hospital bedside and declared her shooting “inhuman” and a “heinous act of terrorism.” [...] Those who attacked Yousafzai and her fellow students, he said, “have no respect even for the golden words of the prophet . . . that ‘the one who is not kind to children, is not amongst us.’ ”

From the BBC:

Malala Yousafzai was just 11 when she was writing her diary, two years after the Taliban took over the Swat Valley, and ordered girls' schools to close.

In the diary, which she kept for the BBC's Urdu service under a pen name, she exposed the suffering caused by the militants as they ruled.

She used the pen-name Gul Makai when writing the diary. Her identity only emerged after the Taliban were driven out of Swat and she later won a national award for bravery and was also nominated for an international children's peace award.

(Entries from her 2009 diary can be found on the BBC site.)

New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote on Wednesday:

Twice the Taliban threw warning letters into the home of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who is one of the world’s most persuasive advocates for girls’ education. They told her to stop her advocacy -- or else.

She refused to back down, stepped up her campaign and even started a fund to help impoverished Pakistani girls get an education. So, on Tuesday, masked gunmen approached her school bus and asked for her by name. Then they shot her in the head and neck.

“Let this be a lesson,” a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said afterward. He added that if she survives, the Taliban would again try to kill her.

[...]

After earlier aspiring to be a doctor, more recently she said she wanted to be a politician -- modeled on President Obama, one of her heroes -- to advance the cause of girls’ education.

Pakistan is a country that has historically suffered from timid and ineffectual leadership, unwilling to stand up to militants. Instead, true leadership emerged from a courageous 14-year-old girl.

On the other side are the Taliban, who understand the stakes perfectly. They shot Malala because girls’ education threatens everything that they stand for. The greatest risk for violent extremists in Pakistan isn’t American drones. It’s educated girls.

“This is not just Malala’s war,” a 19-year-old female student in Peshawar told me. “It is a war between two ideologies, between the light of education and darkness.”

Courtesy of The New York Times, here is a documentary film by Adam B. Ellick that includes some conversations with Malala Yousafzai:

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