There is a reason why the America has historically not negotiated with terrorists, Malala’s story is why. On Tuesday a team of Taliban fighters boarded a school bus in the Swat valley of northern Pakistan. Their target was 14-year old school girl named Malala, and when they found her they shot her twice, once in the head and then again in the neck. She is now in a hospital fighting for her life, though doctors are hopeful that she will pull through. What made this young girl an enemy of the Taliban and target for execution? She was an outspoken advocate for girl’s education in Pakistan.
Malala and her plight first began to gain recognition in 2009 when the BBC published her diary as blog under the pen name “Gul Makai.” Referring to it in her diary she says, “I also like the name because my real name means ‘grief-stricken.’ My father said that some days ago someone brought the printout of this diary saying how wonderful it was. My father said that he smiled but could not even say that it was written by his daughter.” It is a frank account of a young girl’s struggle live up to her potential and worth a read.
Ultimately her identity came out, putting her in the Taliban’s crosshairs. Later in 2009 she was the subject of a short documentary by Adam Ellick which chronicles the struggle of Malala and girls like her to get an education in Taliban held territory. Emotional and mesmerizing, it outlines the stakes in the war with militant Islam starkly and can be viewed here.
In 2011 she was runner up for the International Children’s Peace Prize, the first Pakistani girl ever nominated for the award. And in December of 2011 the Pakistani Prime Minister awarded her the first Pakistan Peace Prize for someone under the age of 18; it has subsequently been named the National Malala Peace Prize.
Malala has accomplished what politics of appeasement and billions of dollars in foreign aid have not. She has galvanized Pakistan against the Taliban’s extremist version of Islam. Today in Lahore a council of Islamic scholars issued a fatwah calling the act misguided and ignorant, saying in part, “Islam does not stop women from acquiring education and by attacking Malala the Taliban have crossed the limits of Islam”. The fatwa added, “Prophet Muhammad had regarded the sanctity of Muslim’s life and property more important than the sanctity of the ‘Kaaba’ (sacred Muslim place). Murder of one innocent human being is equivalent to murder of entire humanity.”
While they also added that United States is an enemy of Pakistan and Islam and that cooperation with the U.S. is not in compliance with Islam, this is a conversation within Islam that the West has worked hard to encourage with little result. People fighting for peace and education are people with whom we share at least some commonality of thought, something we have never found with the Taliban.
The Taliban have issued a statement saying, “We are dead against coeducation and secular education, Malala was targeted because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism. … And whom so ever will (do the same) in the future will again be targeted by the (Pakistani Taliban)”. They also added that should she survive they will try to kill her again.
The Obama administration has sought to negotiate a treaty with the Taliban to facilitate a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the negotiations distasteful but the best way to end the prolonged war. These talks have broken down but this incident should act as a reminder that we face a determined enemy with whom we share no goals or values.