Q. Does the attack on Malala Yousafzai represent the much-needed turning point for Pakistan in its efforts to reclaim sociocultural and political spaces dominated by extremism?
A. The attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai is a grotesque and unforgiveable crime. I would love the Taliban to tell us which surah of the Quran requires them to kill a young girl for wanting to go to school. But whether the attack on Malala Yousafzai is a turning point in Pakistan, I really don’t know. After all, religious and feudal extremism have a long and ugly history in our part of the world. In Pakistan and Afghanistan you have women being shot, maimed, imprisoned and deprived of the right to live as equal citizens — by law. In India we take prophylactic action — murdering women in their thousands while they are still fetuses and sometimes just after they are born. Sometimes their husbands burn them for bringing inadequate dowry. None of us is a stranger to the reality of the use of rape as an instrument of war (in recent times in places like Gujarat, Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Bangladesh), or rape as a matter of feudal entitlement (almost anywhere in India), or the phenomenon of honour killing.
Over the centuries, women have risen up to fight against all of this in a myriad different ways. I think Malala Yousafzai is among those many remarkable women — a beautiful and significant milestone in the history of women’s struggles. In his excellent column for Dawn a few months ago, Jawed Naqvi wrote of two other heroic Malalas: 17-year-old Malalai of Maiwand who died on the battlefield in July 1880 fighting the British in the Second Afghan War, and more recently Malalai Joya – of whom Malala was a declared fan – who fought against male bigotry (or shall we just call it barbarism) against women in Afghanistan. She went on to win a seat in the Afghan parliament in 2005.