A month ago, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked whether the Taliban is a terrorist organization. The question appeared to stump her. “Well, I’m not sure how they are defined at this particular moment,” she told reporters.
So how refreshing was it to hear Malala Yousafzai, a16-year-old Pakistani girl, speaking from a U.N. podium last week, unequivocally and forthrightly denouncing the Taliban as terrorist and, for good measure, calling into question the courage and intelligence of its members?
“They are afraid of women,” she said. “And I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist, ‘Why are the Taliban against education?’ He answered very simply by pointing to his book, he said, ‘A Talib doesn’t know what is written inside this book.’”
It was a Talib, you’ll recall, who last year shot Yousafzai in the head as she was riding a bus home from school in northwest Pakistan. She barely survived, then endured surgery and months of hospitalization and recovery. A Taliban spokesman called the attack “a warning to all youngsters in the area that they would be targeted if they followed her example.”
Members of the Taliban oppose education for girls based on their reading of Islamic scripture. Yousafzai rejects such fundamentalism, as she made clear in her U.N. remarks. Indeed, she went out of her way to provoke Salafi Muslims -- those who seek to replicate Islam as it existed in the seventh century -- by saying she had learned “compassion” from “Mohammed, the prophet of mercy,” then immediately noting that she had been inspired also by “Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha,” as well as Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
The last of these figures was the founding father of Pakistan, a man of moderation and tolerance. Four years ago, lecturing on terrorism at a university in Karachi, I asked the audience whether Pakistanis still aspire to build the kind of nation Jinnah envisioned. One student threw his shoe at me. (Others apologized for his behavior.)