Malala Yousafzai has been flown to Britain yesterday for medical treatment in an air ambulance provided by the United Arab Emirates royal family, their prompt generosity in stark contrast with the fundamentalist forces of extremist violence.
She is slowly recovering from a Taliban attempt to assassinate her for "promoting secular views and criticizing the movement." The shooting of the 14 year old school girl has been widely condemned internationally, where she has been admired for her resistance to the Taliban's efforts to deny girls an education.
Pakistanis have been holding some protests and candlelit vigils and many are angered by the continued violence from extremists in the Pakistan Afghanistan border area. But the demonstrations have been relatively small in comparison to the tens of thousands of people organized by right-wing Islamic parties and organizations who held violent protests in Pakistan last month against the infamous video that denigrated Islam's Prophet Muhammad. And there has also been a noted lack of public criticism of the Taliban action from government officials in spite of a call from army chief General Kayani to unite against extremists and their "barbaric mindset."
The Taliban have killed thousands of people in Pakistan over the last five years and destroyed hundreds of girls' schools, justifying the killing of girls as sanctioned by Sharia law. The spokesman for Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Ehsanullah Ehsan stated, "Malala was targeted because of her pioneer role of preaching secularism and so-called enlightened moderation. And whomsoever will commit so in future will be targeted again by the TTP."
This thinking is a chilling reminder of the evil that results from picking and choosing words from the Qur'an to suit an agenda, ignoring all the beauty and wisdom contained in the teachings about compassion, mercy and peace. The natural justice of Islam is evident in countless examples of enlightened moderation including the education of women. There will always be those whose moral compass is seriously awry, like the conspiracy theorists who say it was all a CIA plot, those who choose to exploit the tragedy on political grounds and those who are using the incident to promote their own ideological stance in the media.
"Islam holds the killing of one innocent person as killing the entirety of humanity," Hamid Saeed Kazmi, a former religious affairs minister in Pakistan, recently told reporters. "It also forbids the killing of a woman who has even denounced her religion."
Fifty Islamic scholars from the Sunni Ittehad Council have also publicly denounced attempts by the Pakistani Taliban to use religious justifications for the shooting of Malala and have issued a fatwa against the killers. World leaders have responded, expressing their outrage, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also written letters to top political and religious leaders in Pakistan denouncing the attack on Yousufzai and asking them to help battle extremism in both countries.
Notwithstanding national and international condemnation, her attackers remain at large, despite a $105,000 bounty for their capture. Over 120 people have been questioned but released, but the actual gunmen are still at large.
It is particularly tragic to consider that the attack on Malala was an attack on education and intellectual freedom. It is hardly a Western innovation, but an important and enduring legacy of Islam with its tradition of scholarship, invention and philosophical inquiry. The Taliban's twisted logic is actually attacking their own religious roots and the fragile life of Malala Yousufzai may yet be the inspiration for enlightened change in Pakistan to finally prevail.
If not, one can only ask, how many Malalas will it take?