4:52 PM EDT, October 15, 2012
A week after Malala Yousafzai was shot and gravely wounded by Taliban militants for insisting on the right of girls to get an education, the 14-year-old blogger and Internet activist has become a worldwide symbol of resistance to the extremist views of her attackers.
Over the weekend, mass demonstrations in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan were called to demand the government crack down on Taliban operating in the Swat Valley near the border with Afghanistan, where Ms. Yousafzai lived. The unprecedented outpouring of support for a young woman who dared defy the terror and intimidation of thugs using religion to justify their crimes should convince those who equate Islam with a hateful, anti-Western ideology that there are tens of thousands of Muslims in Pakistan who are willing to stand up against such fanaticism.
The attack on Ms. Yousafzai was a particularly vile and cowardly act in the eyes of Muslims around the world who believe that education for both men and women is a fundamental tenet of their religion. Ms. Yousafzai was on her way home from school when the bus she was riding was stopped and boarded by two masked men who demanded she identify herself by name. Then they shot her in the head and neck at close range in front of her horrified classmates, wounding at least one other girl on the seat next to her before making their escape.
Ms. Yousafzai was rushed to a Pakistani military hospital for treatment, where surgeons operated on her for three hours to remove a bullet lodged in her neck. On Sunday, she was flown from the city of Rawalpindi to a hospital in Birmingham, England, that specializes in treating soldiers wounded in Afghanistan. There she was scheduled to be treated immediately for a second wound caused by another bullet that passed through her head and fractured her skull; she will also receive long-term physical and psychological rehabilitation. Doctors report her condition as "fragile," and she is being accompanied by a Pakistani military physician as well as members of her family.
Within days of the attack demonstrators took to the streets in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, and in Islamabad, the capital. Schools in Pakistan's Swat Valley closed in protest, and Pakistan's army chief vowed to intensify the fight against Taliban militants in response to the wave of outrage that erupted across the country. Thousands of girls signed onto an Internet campaign to support girls' right to an education, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, the first woman to hold that position, called the shooting a turning point in Pakistan's effort to go after Taliban militants and extremist groups. In neighboring India, Pakistan's long-time rival in the region, Muslim young people rallied around the issue of girls' education by wearing "I am Malala" T-shirts at demonstrations. Similar demonstrations were held in half a dozen other Muslim-majority countries.
Though the Taliban quickly took responsibility for the shooting and have even vowed to try again to kill Ms. Yousafzai if she survives last week's attack, the public outrage over their despicable act appears to have produced exactly the opposite effect from what the group intended. Far from cowing Muslims into silence, it has engendered a mood a defiance that has united Pakistan in opposition to the Taliban's brutal methods and increased domestic pressure on the country's political and military leadership to take stronger measures against its fighters.
Ms. Yousafzai, meanwhile, has become a national and international heroine in the struggle for women's rights throughout the Muslim world for her brave assertion that girls should go to school. "I have the right of education," she told CNN in an interview last year after winning Pakistan's first National Peace Prize. "I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up." Inspired by her example, millions of Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere around the world now have been emboldened to do the same.