Malala vs. the Taliban: reason vs. rage

To Americans, the scene is unimaginable. Returning home from an exam, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai looked on in horror as armed men stopped her bus. “Which one of you is Malala?” the gunmen demanded, before shoving a gun against her soft hair—against a little girl’s head—and pulling the trigger. Rather than apologizing for this heinous act, the Taliban has incredibly spent the past few days trying to justify it.

It is hard to imagine the level of depravity one’s mind must reach before it can commit and justify an act of this nature. To push a gun against a child’s head, to squeeze the trigger, is something only a monster can do. The act has rightly been labeled “inhuman.”

The word “inhuman” suggests a mindset that has abdicated something uniquely human—our capacity to reason—and instead adopted something more primal. This description is spot on.

The clash between Malala and her murderers is a microcosm of the larger battle between reason and rage that is currently playing out in the Muslim world. Malala vs. the Taliban symbolizes a battle between rationality and dogma, between the best parts of the human mind and its worst parts. This battle’s importance cannot be ignored because it will shape the futures of millions of people in the Islamic world and (by consequence) elsewhere.

Unfortunately, many who stand up to this irrational, primal rage will face the same fate as Malala. They will use reason to fight something that, though clothed in the robes of misinterpreted religion, is actually nothing but rationalized hatred. Because these purveyors of dogma-justified oppression recognize the innate weakness of their arguments, they will try (as their type has always tried) to silence the rational mind—through force if necessary.

The Taliban’s pitiful justification for Malala’s shooting exemplifies this. Apparently Malala deserved to die because she argued against the group of morons and praised President Obama. To the Taliban’s twisted logic, Malala’s pro-women blog posts qualified as espionage and made her “a spy of the West.” This laughable charge of espionage against a 14-year-old girl somehow justified her death.

Here is the Taliban’s statement: “Islam orders [the] killing of those who are spying for enemies. She used to propagate against “mujahideen” (holy warriors) to defame [the] Taliban. The Quran says that people propagating against Islam and Islamic forces would be killed. We targeted her because she would speak against the Taliban while sitting with shameless strangers and idealized the biggest enemy of Islam, Barack Obama.”

The idea that Malala insulted Islam is laughable. (The idea that Islam sanctions the murder of those who insult it is even more laughable, and has been scoffed at by imams the world over.)

But even if Malala did insult Islam, that misses the point. Malala could have spit on a Quran, torn it apart and tossed it into a fire. None of that would have justified her death. For the use of our rational capacities is a natural human right, and it demands free speech (which itself includes the right to demonstrate). Malala’s questioning of women’s horrid place in Pakistani society did not justify anything other than praise. Reason and free speech should be cheered, not condemned—even if one disagrees with the person doing the speaking.

Of course, some are frightened by free speech. They are scared of reason because deep down they realize that their arguments fail the test of reason, and thus that the propagation of reason through free speech undermines their arguments. This was the case with Jim Crow racists, Bolsheviks and Nazis.

This is also the case with the Taliban. Against Malala’s idealism, the Taliban felt frightened—more so even than the little girl whose life it ruined. This fear morphed into rage, and this rage yielded a heinous act of violence. Instead of shooting Malala, the Taliban could have crafted an argument about why women should be barred from education. The fact that they shot her suggests that, deep down, they know this argument is not reasonable but rather rests solely on dogma and the petty fears of small-minded men.

Malala’s shooting is thus a microcosm of the larger battle between reason and madness that is now raging through the Muslim world. As a person with Lebanese ancestry who has witnessed firsthand how strong religious passion can be, I hope reason overcomes the hot rage and bitterness that has deformed so many minds. Yet when countries exist where an 11-year-old girl with Down syndrome can face the death penalty for blasphemy (as happened recently in Pakistan), my hope falters.

The Taliban, like anti-Semites or racists, are pests. They are frightened little men, and because their ideas are so utterly wrong, their only recourse is to violence. The Muslim world needs more Malalas and less of these idiots.

It should use this tragic event to make that clear.

Mike Shammas is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Wednesday.


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