The Taleban’s attempted assassination of Malala Yousufzai, a fourteen year old school girl, is rightly winning headlines but it’s worth remembering that Malala Yousafza is only the latest of a great many victims of the Taleban’s campaign to frighten Pakistanis off educating girls. They have destroyed many schools and murdered many teachers and others as part of their campaign to keep women in their place.
‘Let this be a lesson,’ Ehsanullah Ehsan, who speaks for the Taleban, has sternly warned while making it clear that should Malala Yousafza survive, they will try again to kill her. She may only be fourteen, but Malala Yousafza is a genuine threat to the culture the Taleban hope to force on the people of Pakistan and beyond. In talking of her aspiration to be a doctor, Malala Yousafza may have inspired other women and girls to believe they could choose a life different to that the Taleban would impose upon them.
That the life the Taleban had in mind for Malala Yousafza must be forced upon her — they clearly failed to inspire her with their brand of Islam — demonstrates that in the end they will fail. Her assassination would cow many, but accepting the Taleban way of life out of fear does not make one a believer. They will secretly yearn for something else and eventually the opportunity to rebel will come.
Despite all this Malala Yousafza and her family remain Muslims, clearly believing that the Taleban have misinterpreted Islam. As a non-Muslim, I don’t believe it is for me (or any other non-Muslim) to decide what it means to be a Muslim. There are clearly those who say they are Muslims and that for Islam to prosper schoolgirls like Malala Yousafza must die and there are others who say they are Muslims and who are genuinely horrified at that idea. It’s not for non-Muslims to decide who is right and it is entirely inappropriate for a Church of England bishop to make statements on which version of Islam believers should be taught or for David Cameron to ‘distinguish’ Islamist extremism from Islam: these are jobs for Islamic scholars.
All this is to say that only those who claim to be Muslims are qualified to take on the Taleban in the battle of ideas that must form part of a larger war for Islam’s soul.