A sort of apology

I generally don’t have a lot to say about international politics, but I am interested in education, especially education for girls.  This story was in the Guardian.

A senior member of the Pakistani Taliban has written an open letter to Malala Yousafzai – the teenager shot in the head as she rode home on a school bus – expressing regret that he didn’t warn her before the attack, but claiming that she was targeted for maligning the insurgents.

Adnan Rasheed, who was convicted for his role in a 2003 assassination attempt on the country’s then-president Pervez Musharraf, did not apologise for the attack, which left Malala gravely wounded, but said he found it shocking.

“I wished it would never happened [sic] and I had advised you before,” he wrote.

Malala was 15 when she and two classmates were targeted by a masked gunman who picked them out on a school bus as they went home from school in Pakistan‘s northwest Swat valley last October.

Last week, she celebrated her 16th birthday by delivering a defiant speech at the United Nations in New York, in which she called on world leaders to provide free schooling for all children.

In the letter, Rasheed claimed that Malala was not targeted for her efforts to promote education, but because the Taliban believed she was running a “smearing campaign” against it.

“You have said in your speech yesterday that pen is mightier than sword,” Rasheed wrote, referring to Malala’s UN speech, “so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school.”

Malala Yousafzai speaking at the United Nations

Malala Yousafzai speaking at the United Nations

I think most of us know that what the Taliban was interpreting as a “smear campaign” was her advocacy of education.  An educated person, and an educated woman in particular, is a threat to any kind of fundamentalism.  (Ask Rick Perry.)

The letter doesn’t make a lot of sense:  “they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school”.  Huh?  Do you think he considers education a sword?  Or maybe talking about education.

He admitted that the Taliban are “blowing up” schools, but justified the attacks on the grounds that the Pakistani army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps use schools as hideouts.

Hundreds of schools have been targeted in Pakistan’s north-west: activists say some had been used by the military, but many attacks were motivated by the Taliban’s opposition to girls’ education.

The Taliban commander also justified recent attacks in Pakistan on health workers vaccinating children against polio by claiming the west was trying to sterilise Muslims.

The letter is clearly intended to influence opinion in Pakistan: although in much of the world Malala has been hailed as a symbol of courage, at home she has been the subject of intense criticism and vilification. Online commentators have described her as a “drama queen” and even accused her of spying for the CIA.

Rasheed contrasted international support for Malala with the lack of coverage given to those killed in US drone attacks – a source of intense grievance in Pakistan.

I understand the anger about civilian deaths from drone attacks since I don’t think they can simply be excused as collateral damage, but I think that may be the only part I do understand.

Rasheed wants Malala to return to Pakistan and attend a female seminary so she can advocate for Islam.  I think that her advocacy for women and for education generally can do a lot to show people in the West who think of Muslims as only terrorists another side of Islam.  She IS an advocate,  Rasheed.

Photograph:   Rick Bajornas/UN Photo/PA

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