The saga of Malala Yousafzai is one of inspiration forged from terrible personal sacrifice. One year ago, a Taliban gunman boarded a school bus she was riding in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, demanded to know, “Who is Malala?,” and shot her in the head, along with two of her classmates. She had defied the Taliban with her support of schooling for girls, and the triggerman hoped to silence her and her beliefs. He did not kill her, nor her convictions. She survived after being flown to the United Kingdom for treatment, and she has become a beacon of courage for millions of people.
Her resilience and bravery stand in stark contrast to the behavior of her tormentors. The Washington Post reported this week from Islamabad that a spokesman for the Taliban had threatened her anew. Shadidullah Shahid, the spokesman, offered the perverse logic that if Malala “stops the spread of secular negative propaganda against the Taliban and also stops following secular ideology, the Taliban will not harm her.” If she persists on her present course — raising the consciousness of the world about the value of universal education — then, the spokesman said, “fighters will wait for a suitable opportunity to target Malala.”
This statement speaks volumes about the Taliban’s ideology. Its anti-modern interpretation of Islamic law was fully on display during the late 1990s, when it dominated Afghanistan and demanded the oppression of women, forcing them to wear full-length burqas in public and seeking to deny them education, among other things. When U.S. troops helped Afghans topple the Taliban in 2001, vistas for Afghan women opened that were unthinkable earlier. But the Taliban did not disappear, and it continued to pursue its medieval thinking. The Taliban has assassinated aid workers trying to vaccinate children against polio. Just this week, two people were killed and many injured after Taliban militants used a bomb to target workers delivering vaccination drops to children in northwest Pakistan. Freedom and equality for women, freedom from the deadly scourge of polio — these are modern ideas that the Taliban apparently still hopes to extinguish.
In the last year, Malala Yousafzai’s recovery and renewed determination to speak have offered a potent counterweight to the regressive beliefs of her assailants. On July 12, her 16th birthday, Ms. Yousafzai told the United Nations, “The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.” This week, she is publishing a memoir, “I Am Malala,” a defiant answer to the question posed on the bus.
On Thursday, the European Parliament awarded Yousafzai the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded Friday to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a watchdog agency working to eliminate the world’s chemical weapons. Yousafzai is young, but in her outspoken response to the Taliban, she carries a torch for all those who would banish the dark forces of violence and repression.