Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by a Taliban gunman, has been transferred to a new hospital in Rawalpindi. She remains in critical condition two days after being targeted for “promoting secularism” – the Taliban’s definition of her advocacy of girls’ education.
“Malala [above, left] is the victim of Talibanization, the radical mind-set spawned from a theocratic and obscurantist interpretation of Islam,” writes Syed Fazl-e-Haider, a development analyst and a columnist for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper:
Talibanization is about forcefully imposing a theocratic agenda on the people. It is about radicalizing them. It is about creating more and more suicide-bomb squads in the name of jihad against liberals and moderates, Muslims and non-Muslims. The attack on Malala liberated many shackled and Talibanized minds. She has won. ….By attacking her, the Taliban attempted to warn all the youngsters not to follow her ideology. But after the attack, Malala’s followers have multiplied across the country. She has won.
“Malala is a very confident young woman and gave a forceful speech,” says Wilson Lee (above, far right), the National Endowment for Democracy’s senior program officer for Asia. “We hope she recovers fully from this heinous attack. She is a great inspiration and the targeted attack on her by the Taliban has unleashed outrage and condemnation across Pakistan.”
Malala was targeted by the Pakistani Taliban because it considers her campaign for girls’ education rights an “obscenity” and a form of “propagating” Western culture,” writes former first lady Laura Bush who in November 2001 delivered the first presidential radio address on the Taliban’s treatment of women.
Malala inspires us because she had the courage to defy the totalitarian mind-set others would have imposed on her. …..Malala is the same age as another writer, a diarist, who inspired many around the world. From her hiding place in Amsterdam, Anne Frank wrote, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’ Today, for Malala and the many girls like her, we need not and cannot wait. We must improve their world.
“As adherents to Islamism [the Taliban] see the individual as merely an instrument to be recruited or eliminated in pursuit of their goal,” says Maajid Nawaz, the founder of Khudi, a Pakistan-based counter-extremism movement. “The cause is what matters, not the killing. They believe that secularism and Westernisation have disturbed God’s natural order and only victory will set things right.”
“Pakistan should grasp this moment in the psyche of the nation to turn the ideological tide against the Taliban and their supporters for good,” he argues, but despite the upsurge in Islamist violence, Pakistan has no national strategy to combat extremism.
“NACTA [the National Counter-Terrorism Authority], the body set up with EU grants to perform this task, sits like a toothless tiger in Islamabad writing nothing but reports,” says Nawaz, the author of Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening. “In that strategic vacuum any formal national response to Malala’s shooting here in Pakistan is bound to be opportunistic and short-term.”
The Centre for Civic Education is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO.