Tue 16 Oct 2012
A fourteen-year old girl is shot in the head for wanting to be educated. It is hard to imagine a more sadistic premeditated attack on innocence. Her name is Malala and her attackers are Taliban extremists who have so perverted the teachings of Islam that they commit the ultimate modern-day shirk: assuming that their cowardly act has divine sanction. The assassination attempt on a school bus is now one of those shots heard across the world. To be sure, the gunshots that have ripped through bodies in Muslim countries number in the thousands these days. The attack on Malala does not override the horrific bloodshed taking place in Syria, the continuing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. But it stands out as a symbol of what goes terribly wrong when partisan religious fervor enters the political arena.
Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, recognizes this: “”The Taliban attack on the 14-year-old girl, who from the age of 11 was involved in the struggle for education for girls, is an attack on all girls in Pakistan, an attack on education, and on all civilised people.” He recognizes that such malevolence puts every young girl in Pakistan in danger and threatens to further divide debates in his country into violent conflict. But this is not only an attack on “all civilised people”; this is an assault on all people. And, as the photograph of a young Muslim girl praying above shows so well, an attack on the very idea of the merciful God she prays to.
I have never met Malala and probably never will. But Malala is my daughter, my wife and my mother. Shooting her is an attack on my family and yours. If the shooters dared to whisper bi-ism-Allah-al-rahman-al-rahim before they pulled the trigger against a child of God, may that same God have mercy on their souls, because they never learned the true meaning of the words they spoke.
Shooting a young girl in the head is a far cry from stoning a woman to death for an accusation of adultery, though both are absurd reactions in the modern world we all share on this planet. It is also far worse than urinating on a Quran, a blatant provocation also inspired by hate. All three major monotheisms teach that life comes from God, be that God Yahweh, the Trinity or Allah. Death is also in the hands of God, no matter how many human hands are involved. They also teach a final judgment, an accounting for actions in this life. By denying Malala the right to be educated, she is being condemned not to understand the revelation that Muslims believe is the word of God. I know of no Quranic verse that could possibly given anyone the right to slaughter an innocent. Certainly there is no statement or action of the Prophet Muhammad to justify such a blatant act of harm. This act of blind hatred perverts the faith of Islam more than any cartoon caricature of Muhammad. Which do you think would sadden the Prophet Muhammad more: a non-believer making fun of him or a believer maliciously assaulted by another believer?
Malevolence and its pragmatic cousin violence have always inflicted our species. One of the most effective ways to battle the universal tendencies toward racism, sexism and violence for its own sake is through education. The school this young girl was attending was hardly a bastion of anti-religious secular thinking, certainly not a ticket to atheism. The “Taliban mentality” that stretches from southern Afghanistan into northern Pakistan is a political beast. The irony is that the word itself in Arabic refers to students, whose goal throughout Islamic history has been to learn. When education was a rare luxury even for the elite in Europe, the madrasa system in the Islamic world taught the sciences and literary arts alongside religion. If Allah really wanted Muslims to remain ignorant of the world he created, then the many Muslim scholars who refined pedagogical methods and wrote major scientific and philosophical treatises must have been dupes.
Hatred thrives on technology. Gunpowder trumped the bow and arrow; steam power made the majestic Spanish galleons useless; airplanes forever changed the ways war would be waged; nuclear weapons have brought the entire world to a situation where virtually all life could be wiped out. But in between the cracks, as it were, are the crackpots who can hijack and fly a civilian airplane into a building, strap a suicide vest around their waists, pull out a handgun and shoot a public official in the face, push buttons on a screen and maneuver a drone to drop bombs thousands of miles away. We cannot eliminate the technology that threatens life every day in the hands of the malevolent. But we can defend the most basic solution to every human crisis: the right to learn something and not just accept the world that way others blindly want it to be.
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