When two masked gunmen from Pakistan’s Taliban shot then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head on a school bus in the country’s northwestern Swat valley last October, the hardline Islamic group was universally condemned.
Amid a global outpouring of support, including praise from world leaders and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, Malala has made a spectacular recovery in the UK these past nine months. Last week, UN officials and more than 500 young people gathered in New York to listen to her first public speech since the attack.
“The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions," she said. “But nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
She stressed the importance of education for all, but especially “for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists.” Further, she credited a diverse array of spiritual and social mentors for teaching her the higher path of nonviolence, from Mohammed, Jesus Christ and Buddha, to Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mother Teresa. “I do not even hate the Talib who shot me,” she said. “Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him.” Her speech can be read in full here.
Following her speech, in a move that some have called an attempt at damage control, a senior member of the Taliban named Adnan Rasheed responded by sending a four-page, 1,863-word letter in halting English to Malala, circuitously explaining the motivations for the horrific act. Reading the letter gives less a sense of the ethos behind Malala’s shooting, than it provides a glimpse into the fears that plague the militant Islamic group. The letter, obtained by Channel 4 News, can be read in full here.
In his missive, Rasheed, a former Pakistan air force technician, vacillates between concern and caution, at one point saying that he wished the attack “had never happened”. He continued: “Please mind that Taliban never attacked you because of going to school or you were education lover, also please mind that Taliban or Mujahideen ar not against the education of any men or women or girl. Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smearing campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative.”
Rasheed wrote that he penned the letter in his “personal capacity” and did not represent the Taliban by sending it. He claimed he had initially found out about her activities in prison when the BBC Urdu service broadcast her diary. He added that he felt compelled to warn her out of “brotherly” concern as a fellow member of the “same Yousafzai tribe”. “When you were attacked, it was shocking for me,” he wrote. “I wished it would never happened and I had advised you before.”
At one point, Rasheed poses the question of whether the attack was morally right or wrong, before briskly brushing the argument aside, saying, “Let’s we leave it to Allah All mighty…He is the best judge.”
Along with his tepid defense of an attempt on the life of an innocent girl, Rasheed also rails against the move towards world domination by “Jews” and “freemasons”, citing Henry Kissinger’s alleged plans to reduce world population by 80 percent via the cocktail of “sterilization” (by polio vaccine) and eugenics.
The winding letter also quotes Bertrand Russell, defends the Taliban’s practice of blowing up schools – claiming the Pakistani army uses them for bases – and asked her whether she would have received so much attention if she’d been killed by a CIA drone strike.
Getting to the heart of the matter, Rasheed relayed the story of the 19th century British politician Thomas Babington Macaulay, a staunch advocate of Anglicizing colonial India via the British education system, creating a “class of interpreters…Indian in colour, English in tastes”.
The antidote? “Come back home, adopt the Islamic and pushtoon culture and join any female Islamic madressa,” Rasheed suggests.
It is the fear of domination by Western culture that comes through most clearly in the meandering screed. As Channel 4 News noted, Malala is a modern day “Macaulay’s child” in the Taliban’s eyes. As they see it, by promoting the education system being used to Westernize the Swat valley, Malala is effectively on the wrong side of a clash of civilizations.
Proving that one person can very much make a difference, Malala’s moral fortitude is winning out. Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who serves as UN special envoy on global education, said, “It's taken her to put the Taliban completely on the defensive, and that's why they're issuing this statement now. But we know that they're still bombing schools, they're still destroying classrooms, they're still murdering teachers, and they're still massacring groups of students.”
Indeed, half of all Pakistan’s primary school-aged children and almost three-quarters of the nation’s young girls are not enrolled in school, according to UN and government statistics published late last year. Further, in Malala’s home province, more than 750 schools have been destroyed by the Taliban since 2008. Hopefully, this panicked letter signals a turning point.
Brown added, “If this letter is a genuine one, and I think it probably is, it shows that the millions of people who have been signing petitions and campaigning alongside Malala for girls education, are having an impact on them.”