In Swat, Pakistan three children were attacked including Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year old awarded for promoting girl’s education. She was taken off her school bus by an armed Taliban militant and shot in the head (as of this writing she is reportedly in stable condition.)
After years of acquiescence towards radicalized militant groups, the shooting of a child appears to be finally galvanizing public opinion in Pakistan, a country with a rich history of tolerance.
The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan notes:
“The attempt on Malala Yousafzai’s life has shocked and angered the nation, and reports from parliament suggest a wider anti-Taliban consensus might be in the works – something Pakistan’s fractious politicians have rarely achieved before.”
Richard Leiby reports in The Washington Post:
“The world image of Pakistan is, to put it mildly, not very good,” said Ijaz Khattak, a professor at the University of Peshawar who knows Yousafzai and her father, an educator and peace activist in Swat. “Society is seen as increasingly sympathetic to these terrorists. What this incident can prove to be is a catalyst, because the outrage can turn the tide against the religious fundamentalism.”
Moderate Pakistani Muslims are not alone. The terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya killed four including Ambassador Stevens, a highly regarded official active in supporting the new Libyan government. Within days thousands demonstrated in support of secular Libya and against the attackers. In contrast to the riots elsewhere about an amateur video criticizing Islam the crowds of Benghazi descended on militia headquarters driving them out of the area.
Extremists in the Middle East have had a litany of excuses for their terrorist ideology. For decades U.S. support of regional dictators including Egypt’s Mubarak and for a time Iraq’s Hussein (when fighting against Iran) gave radical groups easy ideological ammunition. Now that the Arab Spring’s indigenous revolutions toppled these regimes fundamentalists have lost yet another rallying cry.
Malala Yousafzai, who is still struggling for her life in a Pakistani military hospital, may never be able to return to her home because of the continued threat of violence. Taliban militants apparently stated that if Malala lives they will attack again until they kill her.
The day she is free to live anywhere, study anything and say whatever is on her mind without fear marks the day fundamentalists have lost in Pakistan. That day may be coming sooner than some expect.
In the end, only moderate majority populations, galvanized by these acts of terror into a groundswell of popular outrage and action can make these attacks the fundamentalist’s final failed stand.
Photos: (Top) Inter Services Public Relations Department. (Bottom) Malala awarded Pakistan’s first Youth Peace Award. Pakistani Press Information Department.