Malala Yousafzai is a very brave young woman. At the age of 11 she began blogging about girls' rights in Pakistan's Swat Valley, then under Taliban control. When the Taliban were partially driven out by the Pakistani army in 2009, Yousafzai kept working to promote the rights of girls like herself across Pakistan. Last year she won Pakistan's first national peace award and was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize.
On Tuesday Taliban gunmen attacked the bus carrying Yousafzai, now 14, and her classmates home from school. She was shot in the head. A local spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban quickly claimed responsibility, saying she was specifically targeted for promoting secularism.
Let's take a moment to meditate on this villainy: armed fanatics stormed a bus to shoot a curious and courageous child in the head.
Fortunately, Yousafzai was airlifted to hospital, had the bullet removed from her head and is in critical condition but expected to survive. The Taliban, in another hideous display, has threatened to come after her again. But many Pakistanis have rallied to her side. The country's military chief condemned the attack, a rally was held in her hometown, and many schools in the Swat Valley closed their doors Wednesday in protest.
This cowardly attack on childhood is a new low. But while it has galvanised disgust across Pakistan and the world, the danger is that it will also serve the Taliban's aims: fuelling more violence.
This weekend, cricketer turned politician Imran Khan led a peace march against deadly US drone attacks in north-west Pakistan. His campaign has widespread support. But attacks like this one can easily be manipulated by those seeking to stoke more violence. "The extremists are enemies of education and of women," one of the girl’s former teachers, a former Khan supporter, told the Daily Beast. "The only solution is to eliminate them with US drones.”
Above all, this attack must not be used to sow more fear and hate, fuelling the deadly cycle of killing in Pakistan that has cost so many thousands of lives already. If anything, this is a moment to take inspiration from Malala: to come together and reject violence and say enough is enough.
Sources: BBC, Dawn, AP, USA Today, Avaaz, Daily Beast