by Shadee Ashtari
January 3, 2009: “I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban […]I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools […] Before the launch of the military operation we all used to go to Marghazar […] for picnics on Sundays. But now the situation is such that we have not been out on picnic for over a year and a half.” –Malala Yousafzai in her “Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl” for BBC.
Two days ago, a fourteen year old girl by the name of Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school when a man with a gun approached a young girl waiting to leave school and asked her which one of them was Malala. One of the girls pointed to Malala, but when Malala denied it, the man shot both of the girls. This is not some random psychotic-snap shooting—the man is a member of the Taliban occupying the Swat Valley region of Pakistan and the girl is an activist for girls’ education and recipient of the National Peace Award. The young girl is a symbol of equality and courage and the Taliban’s gunman is a symbol of cowardice and humanity’s darkest hole of unenlightenment, insecurity and violence.
Although both girls survived, Malala remains in critical condition in a hospital in Peshawar after being shot in the head and neck. Malala Yousafzai garnered public attention in 2009, at the age of 11, when she began blogging for BBC (under the pseudonym Gul Makai) about living under the occupation of the Taliban. When the Taliban arrived in Swat Valley, so did a harsher set of rules for its people: men forced to grow beards; women restricted from attending the bazaar; the whipping of women deemed immoral; the beheading of opponents; and most crucial for Malala, an edict banning girls from attending school.
Hence, the Taliban’s staunch opposition to Malala’s public advocacy for girls’ education materializes into a repulsive assassination attempt and a shamefully boastful announcement of responsibility for shooting her:
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan commented on her shooting via telephone, “She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it. This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter. Let this be a lesson.”
Public outrage now amplifies at the shameless proposal by the Taliban to attack the young girl again.
Malala attended school despite the edict, wore her favorite pink dress in place of the uniform, and voiced a message of liberation through education in the face of death threats. Clearly, her message was so strong and so threatening that the fundamentalist Muslim militia felt the need to silence her. In attacking this young girl, the Taliban has done nothing but legitimize her claims for girls’ education. Clearly, the future of an educated female population is so threatening to the fundamental control-tactics of the Taliban’s occupation that they feel the need to assassinate a child.
Words that come to mind include pathetic and disturbing but more significantly, symbolic—symbolic of a powerful oppressed population of citizens that are becoming so threatening for the Middle East that not only have Pakistan and Afghanistan issued edicts banning girls’ education, but even Iran has now banned women from 77 majors at 36 universities. The forbidden majors are of course heavily mathematics and science oriented, aimed at preemptively limiting the amount of independence women in the Middle East can acquire through higher paying jobs. Just as the extremist Iranian government is back-lashing against the 2009 Green Revolution with banning women from universities, the Taliban is fighting off the threat of Malala’s plea for a fundamental basis of empowerment though education by attempting to stifle her and incite fear in other advocates.
Let the rage of Pakistan be a “lesson” to Swat Valley’s occupiers: attacking a 14 year-old school girl solidifies the powerful threat she and her message represent for unbinding a bound population of young girls. The attempt to stifle her amplifies her voice, emboldens the Taliban’s opposition to rebel, and solidifies her message.
Although many may think twice now before allowing their children to advocate for their rights, Malala’s own father, a teacher and girls’ education advocate, told BBC, “Of course, it was a risk [to let her write the blog], but I think that not talking was a greater risk than that because then ultimately we would have given in to the slavery and the subjugation of ruthless terrorism and extremism.”
Facts and figures from Aljazeera and BBC.
Shadee Ashtari is a senior at UCLA majoring in Communications with a minor in Political Science. She is a co-editor with The Generation.