How Malala Yousafzai may affect Pakistan’s violent culture wars

Time reports: A larger battlefield in Pakistan looms for the group that claims responsibility for shooting Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old advocate of education for girls. Even as the young woman lay in critical condition, with “a 70% chance of survival” according to one local newspaper, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) vowed it would attack her again if she survives, according to a statement from their spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan. Indeed, for the TTP, the stakes are broader than schooling for girls and women. “If anyone thinks that Malala is targeted because of education,” said a TTP statement, “that’s absolutely wrong and propaganda by the media. Malala is targeted because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism and so-called enlightened moderation. And whosoever will commit so in the future too will be targeted again by TTP.”

The Taliban may have been making a political play with the shooting. After all, Pakistanis, in the recent past, have reacted ambivalently to violence against representatives of “secularism and so-called enlightened moderation.” Last year, the then governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by one of his own security guards — Mumtaz Qadri — who was incensed over his boss’ support of a Christian woman who was facing charges of blasphemy, a legal charge in the eyes of Pakistani law. The assassination left Pakistan divided between “liberals” thoroughly opposed to the murder and crowds — including lawyers — who thronged the streets to throw rose petals on the vehicle that transported Qadri to court.

Later that same year, Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti — himself a Christian — was assassinated in Islamabad when Taliban gunmen opened fire on his car. The murderers left the scene with pamphlets that labeled the minister a “Christian infidel.” Bhatti — like Taseer — had spoken out against the blasphemy laws.

In July, Farida Afridi, 25, the founder of a nonprofit that educated Pakistani women about their legal rights, was gunned down in broad daylight in Peshawar, a Taliban stronghold. She was shot in the head, reportedly, after a motorbike with two men drove up behind her, opened fire and sped away. No one has claimed responsibility for her death. “How do you hold assassins accountable when your code of ethics is directly in conflict?” asks Hira Nabi, a Lahore artist, exasperated by the country’s ideological divide. “How do you combat a way of existence that doesn’t recognize your right to live?” [Continue reading…]

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