KARACHI — On Oct. 9, masked Taliban gunmen stopped Malala Yusufzai, a 14-year-old Pushtun girl from Pakistan's scenic Swat area, identified her, and then shot her. A day later, the girl lies in a hospital bed, battling for life after doctors removed the bullet from her head. As Pakistanis, all of us, in some way, are fighting the same broader struggle with misogyny and ignorance. We are all Malala.
In the eyes of the Taliban, Malala's crime was campaigning for the rights of women to get an education. She shot to fame by writing on the BBC's website about the horrors of living amid a Taliban insurgency, and openly condemned the Taliban for prohibiting girls from going to school. She nearly paid for it with her life. A Taliban spokesman called her crusade an "obscenity," and said that if she survived, the Taliban would try to kill her again.
The Taliban blow up Sufi shrines; worshippers at mosques; and men, women, and children in markets. They go for maximum carnage, taking dozens of lives either with the help of remote-controlled bombs or by luring in dazed, brainwashed nutcases to commit suicide in public by detonating dynamite strapped around their waists. The Taliban have also targeted specific individuals: senior police officials, politicians, captured soldiers, journalists, and even some religious scholars belonging to Muslim sects and sub-sects that the Taliban consider heretical. Now, add to this list of victims a 14-year-old schoolgirl specifically targeted because the Taliban think she ridiculed and defied the dictates ordained by God and his scriptures.
Who is responsible for the Taliban's murderous rage? A number of TV journalists, talk-show hosts, religious parties, and even some non-religious ones have continued to connect U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan with the spree of death unleashed by the Taliban and the sectarian outfits allied to them. Fearing both the extremists and losing support from those swept up in the anti-American wave, they find it difficult to condemn Taliban atrocities without mentioning drones.
Pakistani moderates have accused Taliban supporters of being naive, or worse, of being apologists. The so-called apologists have retaliated by labeling their accusers "liberal fascists," or even "American-CIA agents." They complain that these "liberal fascists" are always quick to condemn attacks from the Taliban, but remain quiet when U.S. drone strikes kill innocent people.
This argument contains enough rhetorical power to win instant approval from a people squirming in a country ravaged by economic crises, crime waves, unabashed corruption, terrorism, a civil war in the north, a government and military dangerously ambiguous toward the Islamists and the Taliban -- a society whose soul is being constantly pulled from all sides by the growing ranks of revivalists claiming that their understanding and interpretation of Islam is the most correct and accurate.