“I think about it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong …” said Malala Yousufzai about a possible attack from the Taliban. They have come to kill you and hopefully, have failed — however, my child, there are still people amongst us who cannot tell them, “what they are trying to do is wrong”. This one clear-eyed statement of Malala represents the gold standard and tells us all that we need to know about opposing these barbarians. One would have thought it was not humanely possible to defend or make excuses for an attempt of murder on a child; however, it always turns out to be a mistake to underestimate bigotry. Many of those who have condemned did not have the spine to directly name the TTP, who have themselves claimed responsibility and have expressed their criminal desire of repeating the act.
The aftermath of the attack saw the usual clichés, one of which is, “We are all Malala”. No, we are not. Had all of us or even most of been Malala, these medieval thugs could not have attacked her. Had enough of us been Malala, nobody would have dared to make excuses for this murderous assault. By all means, feel terrible about us not being Malala but also feel worse and angry that the one who was Malala is now fighting for her life because of our failure to protect her. Also, assume the liberty of shaming with contempt and rage anyone who tries to make an excuse for this.
I do not want to play politics today. However, let me say this: Malala, Kainat and Shazia were not attacked because of drone attacks or US foreign policy. They were attacked because we have in our midst an enemy who is terrified of girls being educated, terrified enough to kill them. Independent brave girls scare them more than drones or army operations. Misogyny is inevitably one of the first manifestations of a tyrannical mindset. It is not a coincidence that these fanatics and their apologists are at their most aggressive and bigoted when launching crusades against Aasia Bibi, Rimsha and Malala. Similarly, it is not a coincidence that the most courageous legislators and activists in our country are women.
Today, when I hear people saying that they are afraid of condemning the TTP by name because they fear for themselves, I think of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. And her unequivocal resolve to fight this bigotry. And her press conference immediately after the Karsaaz blast with the knowledge that these brutes are out there to kill her. Shaheed BB was Malala, she did tell them what they are trying to do is wrong and they did kill her. What Habib Jalib wrote about BB, is also about Malala, “Dartay kyun hain bandooqon walay aik nehati larki say” (‘Why are those with guns so afraid of one unarmed girl?”). So when somebody tells us about self-preservation and realpolitik in not naming these murderers, they should keep in mind we already have a standard and precedent of courage set by Malala and BB. We could not save BB, we have to save Malala. Anyone who wants to run this country should be and would be weighed on the standard set by a brave and honest 14-year-old girl. At the present time, those who cry the hoarsest about their own courage are falling considerably short of that standard.
A good thing coming out of this episode is the emergence of challenge to our society in the most overt and naked form. There are those who are trying to inject complexity into the debate and some of them unwittingly are becoming apologists for this mindset of murder and blowing up girls’ schools. Yet, there remains very little room for complexity. It can either be Malala’s Pakistan or TTP’s Pakistan, it cannot be both. This should not be a choice. A Pakistan without Malala and her other fellow girls fighting for education will not be worth living in. I know binaries are supposed to be lazy and not nuanced enough, however, a 14-year-old child is shot in the head for “promoting secularism”. There is no provision for nuance. One has to set one’s face against this and summon all resources to fight. The debate on drone attacks can and should continue. However it has no bearing on our responsibility to fight these medievalists. They should be fought and eliminated — not negotiated with or mollycoddled. Firstly, negotiation is not possible. Secondly, and more importantly, negotiation with them is immoral. An attack on our children is as direct and frontal as an assault can be. This is not a question of politics; it has become a question of survival. The fight should begin by naming the enemy loud and clear, i.e., the TTP and their ideology of hate.
It is of some consolation to see the army chief condemning the assassination attempt on Malala. However, mere condemnation is not enough. The Pakistan Army has to stop the policy of considering the terrorist, any faction or network as “strategic assets”. The mindset has to be fought and fought as a whole and conclusively. It is now a choice between our children and these “strategic assets”. The Pakistan Army has, the over the past three decades, contributed to this ideology of jihad. For this reason, it also has the additional responsibility of erasing this misdeed and fighting these monsters.
George Orwell, writing about a young soldier of the Spanish War, wrote: “But the thing I saw in your face, No Power can disinherit; No Bomb that ever burst; Shatters the Crystal Spirit.” To understand Orwell’s words, have a look at the face of that child and the sparkle and resolve in her eyes. We are not Malala, but we should be, we can try. Let us hope Malala lives long enough to see her Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2012.