The Pakistani Taliban fired the shot heard around the world when it tried to silence Malala Yousafzai this week.
Not only did the group fail to silence 14-year-old Malala with gunshots to the head and neck, it made her voice stronger and multiplied her efforts a hundred-fold. Twitter, Facebook and the other means of communication in a 21st century world will grow that number exponentially.
The timing of the attack is sadly ironic, with Oct. 11 the date set by the United Nations for an annual “International Day of the Girl Child.”
Malala was shot because she is an advocate for girls’ education. According to the Associated Press, Malala wrote about Taliban practices – forcing men to grow beards, preventing women from going to the market and blowing up schools for girls – in a journal for the BBC under a pseudonym when she was just 11. Later she became even more outspoken in advocating for girls’ education and appeared frequently in the media. She was recognized for her work last year, when she won Pakistan’s National Peace Award.
Such advocacy is forbidden by the Taliban, and when warnings didn’t stop the teenager from speaking out, they did the unthinkable. Masked gunmen approached her school bus, asked for her by name and then shot her.
Taking responsibility for the unspeakable atrocity, they promised to again try to kill her if she survives. What they don’t understand is that whether that brave young girl survives or not, they cannot kill the spirit of millions of others who will continue to fight for the rights of women in a land where they are beyond diminished.
The barbaric attack on a young girl speaking out for a basic right – education – is an indication of how desperate the Taliban is becoming, unable to win on the battlefield and losing the social war as more and more girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan win an education.
Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited Malala at the hospital and met her family. In a statement, he talked about the Swat Valley, the region where Malala was being educated, and how she is an icon of courage and hope for the people there. It is a concept clearly beyond the Taliban doctrine of subjugating women.
By shooting Malala, the Taliban hoped to teach a lesson. They succeeded. But it wasn’t the lesson they had in mind. Their intention was to turn back progress. Instead, they have struck up an international chorus of condemnation.
Malala’s friends and admirers hope she will be able to return to school. Whether she does or not, she will have succeeded in opening the schoolhouse door for many more girls.