The shot heard around the world

Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani ninth-grader, became known for championing the rights of girls to go to school aged 11.

By ILENE PRUSHER
October 15, 2012 02:55
 Malala Yousufzai, who was shot by the Taliban.

Malala Yousufzai. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohsin Raza)

Not many bloggers become famous at 14.

But Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani ninth-grader, became known for championing the rights of girls to go to school at the age of 11, when she wrote a blog for the BBC describing life under the Taliban. More recently, she said she wanted to stay in school to become a doctor.

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Last week, Yousufzai catapulted to international fame when Taliban terrorists shot her in the head and neck, leaving her in critical condition. That the Taliban – which has tried to put its reactionary thumbprint on the primarily Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan where Yousufzai lives – could shoot a teenage girl with impunity has aroused both ire and support around the world, including from many Muslims fed up with fundamentalists.

In Karachi Sunday, thousands gathered to protest the shooting. Altaf Hussain, the head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, addressed the crowd in a call from his selfimposed exile in London and called the attack a “shameful and cowardly” act, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported.

Across Pakistan and in Afghanistan, an outcry was being heard. In Pakistan, more than 50 Islamic scholars issued a fatwa Friday, denouncing the attack on Yousufzai. The government scrambled to show it would find the perpetrators, arresting some 70 people.

In Afghanistan Saturday, nearly 10 million students in 15,000 schools across the country prayed for the 14-yearold in a coordinated event, Afghan media reported. At one official ceremony at a school in Kabul, Education Minister Faruq Wardak called the shooting of Yousafzai a crime “against Islam and humanity.”

Many Muslims in Pakistan condemn the attack as un- Islamic. “The prophet Muhammad fought against the very ‘jahalat’ which buried daughters and treated women inferior,” AK Chishti, a Pakistani journalist, wrote on Twitter, using the term for pre-Islamic ignorance.

“We must follow him.”

The issue has now gone far beyond Pakistan and Afghanistan, both of which have seen a resurgence of Taliban power in recent months.

“If I had any say in this I would have awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the brave 14- year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousufzai,” wrote Sultan al-Qassemi, a popular commentator in Dubai, in his Twitter feed Sunday. Scores of others have written similar comments, and created a #Stand- WithMalala hashtag (or keyword that helps organize debate around a subject).

But some said the commentary and scattered protest was not nearly enough. Several writers with Twitter “handles,” (pseudonyms) wondered aloud why the outrage over Yousufzai’s shooting didn’t reach the same fever pitch that swept the Islamic world last month over the movie, Innocence of Muslims.” A 14-minute trailer of the film, which denigrates the prophet Muhammad, drew angry demonstrations and in some cases rioting aimed at US and other Western embassies. During one protest in Benghazi, Libya, the US ambassador was killed.

Reaching far beyond South Asia, Yousufzai has now become the icon of a growing international movement aimed at ensuring girls across the globe get an education. An estimated 67 million primary school-age children are not in school, says UNICEF, which has made Yousufzai the focus of a new campaign it calls, “Believe in ZERO girls denied an education.”

In some areas of Pakistan, UNICEF estimates, only one out of every five children in school is a girl.

In one of the most circulated comments across Twitter, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “The terrorists showed what frightens them most: A girl with a book.”

Ali Khan, a Pakistani hotelier, tweeted it this way: “All men should wish to have a daughter like her. This beautiful soul with courage has displayed how to lead.”

Across the world, Yousufzai’s case has become a cause célèbre. Hip Western media outlets like buzzfeed.com, which normally would have little interest in the news from Pakistan, circulated a compelling video with a call to action to stop the Taliban.

The popular website Jezebel.com, who’s subhead is “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing” has been keeping tabs on Malala, reporting Sunday that she may be airlifted out of Pakistan for medical treatment, quoting the AP. 

Not since the Taliban willfully blew up the huge Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in March 2001, has there been such a world outcry over its behavior.

The issue has attracted the usual top media commentators.

When The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof reported an update Saturday about Yousufzai’s condition – a family member said she was still on a respirator but had moved a limb – more than 500 people retweeted the information.

But Yousufzai’s plight is also attracting mainstream celebrities, promising to the elevate the issue to the level of popular awareness, for example, when musicians forming Band Aid raised millions for famine-stricken Africa by recording the hit songs “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “We are the World.”

British actor Ewan McGregor tweeted: “I #StandWith- Malala…We can share our horror so the world learns.” Actressactivists Mia Farrow and Bianca Jagger have also been tweeting in support of Yousufzai.

Most major Islamic groups in Pakistan have condemned the attack, which also injured two other schoolgirls who were traveling in a transit van. Even Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity wing of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, said it was a “shameful, despicable, barbaric attempt” on Yousufzai’s life.

Many Islamists, however, are skeptical of the world attention to the issue, and are portraying it as a set-up to criticize Pakistan.

Meanwhile, these groups say, children who have been severely injured or killed in US drone attacks over Pakistan don’t get a fraction of the attention.

“Everyone is using the Malala incident,” said Hamid Khan, a businessman and activist with Jamaat-e-Islami in the Malakand region of Pakistan, where Yousufzai lives.

“In my opinion, every day incidents like this happen in Pakistan. This is not a new subject. But many groups are using it for their interests,” he said in an interview on Facebook chat.

Muhammad Saad Khan, another Pakistani writer, agrees, arguing that Malala “was purposely brought to limelight to make her a symbol.” In a commentary on mybitforchange.org, he accused her case of being “used for media ratings” but said that the government needed to do more to protect people.

“The role of government is deplorable,” Khan wrote. “Governments are supposed to protect their citizens, in which our government has terribly failed.”

Several hours later on the day of the attack October 9, Ihsanullah Ihsan, the top spokesman for the Taliban in Pakistan, took credit for the attempt to assassinate Yousufzai.

In the statement sent out by Ihsan, the Taliban spokesman said that “whom so ever leads a campaign against Islam and Shari’a is ordered to be killed by Shari’a.”

Sirajuddin Ahmad, a spokesman for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, said that Yousufzai had been “brainwashed” into making anti-Taliban statements by her father. “We warned him several times to stop his daughter from using dirty language against us,” The Times quoted him as saying, “but he didn’t listen and forced us to take this extreme step.” •


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