“PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A 14-year-old Pakistani activist who won international acclaim for speaking out for girls denied education under the Taliban was shot and seriously wounded Tuesday on her way home from school, authorities said.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on ninth-grader Malala Yousafzai, who officials said was shot in the head by at least one gunman who approached a school bus in Mingora, a city in the scenic Swat valley in the country’s northwest….
Yousafzai became known in early 2009, when she wrote a diary about Taliban atrocities under a pen name for the BBC’s Urdu service. In 2011, the Pakistani government awarded her a 1 million rupee ($10,500) prize and a peace award for her bravery in raising her voice for children’s rights and girls’ education when few others in Pakistan dared to.”
What do you say about men so threatened by the mere words of a 14-year-old girl that their best and only response is to try to assassinate her? We can call them moral cretins and cowards, which they certainly are. But that doesn’t do much for young Malala, who at last report was still clinging to life. It also doesn’t do much to protect many others like her trapped in cultures that treat women as chattel, dominated by male authorities that fear education as a challenge to their own teetering authority.
It is some solace, I suppose, that their authority is indeed teetering. Like the lynchings that once marred the American South, such acts of violence against helpless victims are a sign of weakness, not strength, and in the long term they will be interpreted as such. Human cultures may be wildly diverse, but some things are true in all places and times, and grown, armed men attacking young children elicits admiration in very few. It is also important to remember that the circumstances that produced her attackers also produced Malala herself.
Like many outbursts of violence, this attack is an act of desperation, an act of vain, brutish protest against social changes that are coming too fast for many in Pakistan and elsewhere in the deep Islamic world, but much too slowly for Malala and others caught in her predicament.
The challenge for those of us outside that world is how to accelerate that process without putting lives in unnecessary danger. Tempting as it might be to some, it is not a problem that military power can set right. The changes that are necessary cannot be imposed at gunpoint any better than they can be prevented at gunpoint. They will come in time, but time that is measured not in months or even years but probably in decades.
The knowledge that in the meantime, heroines such as Malala remain vulnerable to such cowards does not make the wait any easier.
– Jay Bookman