Not another Malala post, eh? At the rate I’m going she’ll be rivalling horsemeat and banking as a topic in her own right.
But, as you’ll know if you’ve looked at my other posts on the subject (here and here), she does justify the attention.
Today’s post returns to the theme of the first one, of the optimism we should all feel about Malala. Alongside the recent news regarding the first active use of the money raised by Malala’s charity to fund education, the BBC made this short film. It’s about her friends. You know, the others who got caught in the crossfire.
There were two of them and their lives have gone on in different ways. Both still Taleban targets, both still under guard, both want to continue to study. One, understandably, is terrified. She’d rather be in the UK, like Malala, safe to continue her education. The other seems almost spurred on by the danger, continuing her education in Pakistan, sending out a message about how important it is and how the bullies can be faced down.
But they have a couple of things in common.
They both still want to study. Sure, one’s afraid of what might happen to her in her native land, but you can understand that, after what she’s been through. She could have given up, though. She could have turned around to the BBC and said, you know what, I’ve had enough, I’ll stay and live in the village and do what my ancestors have done for generations, and the Taleban would have seen it as a victory and left her alone. But she didn’t. She wants to carry on learning. She’s still standing up to them.
The other thing they have in common, and this is, if you think about it, the greatest surprise of all, is that they’re not dead already.
Because they’re still in Pakistan, and if we were to believe everything we read about it, about Swat, we’d have to assume that there were tens of millions of seething fundamentalists there, that almost everyone was a fundamentalist, that the Taleban were just reflecting popular opinion, and that’s all.
And one thing we know about the Taleban is that they’re well armed and they’re not afraid to die to make a point.
So if that were so, if the fundamentalists were as numerous as we’d been told, then how on earth could the Government have kept her safe? How could the army, already stretched, constantly the subject of rumours about Taleban infiltration, how on earth could the army have stopped a bus-load of gunmen from coming round and putting an end to these girls once and for all? I can’t see how, myself. I can’t see how we’re keeping Malala safe in Birmingham, so how they’re protecting these two in Swat is beyond me.
Unless, that is, the Taleban and their sympathisers aren’t as numerous as we thought. Unless the majority, the vast majority of people in Swat (let alone people in Pakistan) are impressed by what these girls have done – or at the very least, don’t believe they should be killed for it.
The thing is, extremists are always noisy, whatever side they’re on. Ten thousand people marching through a city of ten million can seem like they own the place, like they are the place, like they’re everywhere at once and there’s no other opinion at all. Give those ten thousand people guns, and the other nine million nine hundred and ninety thousand are going to stay inside and bolt the door. They’ll be cautious, they’ll spend more time at home than they might have done otherwise, they’ll be wary about expressing their views in public. They’ll change their habits. But they won’t change their minds.
And that’s the thing, that’s where the Taleban have lost yet again. The people they’ve ruled and fought among and are trying to rule again, those people might be afraid of the Taleban, but the Taleban haven’t managed to change their minds. And the fact that these two girls are still alive proves it.
Liked this? Take a look at the opening chapter from the soon-to-be-published Without Due Care here.