Do you have a definition of abject cowardice? I do, one that I recently acquired. A coward is a man who walks on to a school bus, full of children, and shoots a fourteen-year-old girl twice at close range, in the leg and more critically in the head. The girl in question was guilty of a dire crime: she believes that education is a fundamental right for all. This was enough to mark her as a target for assassination by the Pakistani Taliban.
I was a bit out of the loop so far as news was concerned when I was in
But the one item that gripped my attention in early October was a report I saw
on the BBC World Service concerning the attempted murder of Malala Yousafazi
by a Taliban hitman, principally because she was an active campaigner for
schooling for girls which, by their perverted lights, was ‘un-Islamic.’
Malala – her name means ‘grief stricken’ – has been active in her cause since the age of eleven. It was then she began to write a blog for BBC Urdu, detailing what life was like after the Taliban took control of her native
Swat Valley in Pakistan. Her principal fear
was over the future of her education – “I was afraid of going to school because
the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from schools.”
The Taliban, it has to be said, was allowed to consolidate its position in Swat in an act of retreat and appeasement by the Pakistani government, which hoped thereby to stop the spread of the cancer. For several months, before they were finally ousted by the army in the summer of 2009, these religious fanatics established their own republic of Islamic virtue, the stuff of nightmares by any reasonable standard. Men were forced to grow beards and women to wear burqas. Those who did not comply faced lashing or beheading. The brutish regime also closed schools, the majority of them for girls.
After the Taliban’s removal Malala appeared on national television to talk about girls’ education. Her courage in speaking against the Taliban was enough for the Pakistani government to select her as a fitting recipient of the country’s first National Peace Award for Youth. But it also singled her out in another way. At the beginning of this year she was placed on a Taliban hit list.
That would terrify anyone, particularly a teenager; it would certainly have terrified me. But Malala would not be silenced by fear. “Sometimes I imagine I’m going along and the Taliban stop me”, she said on television, “I take my sandal and hit them in the face and say, ‘What you are doing is wrong. Education is our right, don’t take it away from us.’ There is this quality in me – I’m ready for all situations. So even if (God let this not happen) they kill me, I’ll first say to them, ‘What you are doing is wrong.’”
Her shooting caused widespread outrage, in
across much of the world. How could it not? How could it not given
the callousness of the action, given her youth and given the cause for which
she was prepared to risk her life? Even countries with the most dubious
record on human rights recognise the importance of universal education.
I’m almost tempted to say that girls’ schooling is no more of a ‘right’ than
breathing; it’s a reflex.
It’s impossible to breath under the Taliban. These disciples of Iblis have blown up Sufi shrines, worshipers at mosques, and men and women in markets. Bombs have been planted to ensure maximum loss of life. Then there is murder incorporated, the assassination of specific individuals. Public officials and journalists have been targeted but so, too, have religious scholars belonging to Muslim sects the movement has condemned as heretical.
Malala was singled out because her campaign for educational rights was an ‘obscenity’, so said Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban spokesman. Greater poverty of spirit, greater ignorance, I find almost impossible to imagine. These are people who kill in the name of God knowing nothing of God. Is there any greater heresy, I have to ask? There is obscenity alright, the obscenity of the Ehsanullah Ehsan and his debased kind.
Of all the dark forces in the world the Taliban is among the darkest, deep in evil and ignorance. To paraphrase some words of Sir Winston Churchill’s, if the movement succeeds all that we have known and cared for will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted faith.