Recently in the news, there have been reports of an audacious individual in Pakistan who has shown more courage in facing the Taliban, the Pakistani government and military leaders. A recipient of Pakistan’s highest civilian award, this individual, had been threatened by the sadistic Taliban twice in the past for advocating equal education opportunities for women, but refused to admit defeat against the radical Taliban leaders, risking her life in the process.
Who is this remarkable individual?
She is Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year-old Pakistani girl that has dedicated her energy and passion to defending a woman’s right to an education under the narrow-minded statutes of the bigoted Taliban in her home country. Since the age of 11, Yousafzai represented the voice of all women in Pakistan that begged to receive an education that they could never have the opportunity to partake in. Having passed a decree that banned girls above the age of 8 from receiving any form of education, the Taliban wished to silence young Yousafzai’s influential voice, suppress the truth from the Pakistani people, and end her activism, which threatened to challenge the overriding authority of the Taliban leaders. The Taliban ideology, in terms of women’s education, firmly believed that the absence of education in a woman’s life would be beneficial to males due to the fact that the women would be dominated under the oppressive treatment from the man. For Taliban leadership, rigid fundamentalism is a means of political survival, for if a women is given more freedom (an education), a crisis would transpire where the men would lose their place in society, lose their authority, and lose their ability to dominate all women. In advocating for equal education, Yousafzai herself publicly confirms that contrary to the ignorant, radical, and deluded beliefs of the Taliban, the “Quraan didn’t say that girls are not allowed to go to school”, precariously challenging the headstrong Taliban leaders. A radical group, clamped down on ignorance, the Taliban wish to ensure that women continue to sink into poverty and deprivation, guaranteeing that men would continue ruling the government and the women would be forced to follow any and all laws that they enact.
The religion of Islam has garnered an extremely negative connotation attached with it due to the actions and beliefs of groups such as the Taliban. The Taliban defend their exceedingly strict authority and anti-modern ideologies by claiming it is, in its simplest form, “an innovative form of sharia”, with its leaders made up of males who have had no education in math, science, history, or geography. Although they claim to connect their radical beliefs to verses mentioned in the Quraan, they do not offering accurate or even reasonable interpretation of Islam; rather, to excuse their pitiful, although violent and disturbing, efforts to create a male patriarchy, Taliban leaders create their own laws which are formulated in a way that they see fit in maintaining their political or social agenda.
Why do the Taliban have such a keen interest in whether the women in Pakistan are receiving an education? Although tied from ideologies sewn from the threads of ignorance, even the Taliban recognize that education is the key to change and transformation. They associate this change with the Western World, which has begun offering equal opportunities for women in terms of education, work, and freedom. The Taliban denounce the West as oppressive, and equality for women is seen as a western ideology. And what’s wrong with the Western World, you may ask? For us, it seems that we are doing everything right, moving forward on our pathway to change. For the Taliban, however, a group that desires to go back in time and maintain “tradition”, equality is nonexistent, merely a dreadful “Western” ideology.
For this reason, on Tuesday, October 9, 2012, a masked gunman sent by the Taliban approached 14 year-old equal education activist Malala Yousafzai as she was walking home from school and shot her in the head and neck, his reason for the attempted-assassination driven by the pathological hatred of women and equality.
The Pakistani Taliban were eager to take credit for the attack and defended it by claiming that Malala “had become a symbol of Western culture in the area”. They shot Malala due to the realization that the concept of girls’ education threatened all that they stood for: a male-dominate society. And to be challenged by the deplorable leadership and impudence of a 14 year-old girl? The Taliban had recognized the power of girls’ education in fueling a revolution, and they needed it to stop. Utilizing scare tactics to intimidate advocates of gender equality, the Taliban displayed public floggings of women and executions for violations of the Taliban laws. To punish a courageous man’s attempt to organize an underground school for girls, the Taliban had the man’s “head chopped off so that it was hanging between his legs.” Additionally, they left a “note saying that if anyone moved the dead body, they would share in his fate.”
Although the unyielding authority of the Taliban was evident, Malala Yousafzai refused to allow the Taliban to continue burning and bombing their schools, depriving women of the human right to an education, while the government stood, a silent bystander in the devastation.
Malala Yousafzai is currently in critical condition at a western hospital. She was and continues to be the face of millions of girls around the world who are denied the opportunity to receive an education and empower themselves, along with their community. We pray that she survives and can return to serve as a defiant model for all girls, whose instinctive desire for education cannot and will not be extinguished so easily.
by Bushra Islam