Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Girl's courage, Taliban's cowardice

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Mon October 15, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The world's worst cowards are the members of the Pakistani Taliban, says Frida Ghitis
  • They are terrified of Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old girl they shot, Ghitis says
  • They want to subjugate the local population, particularly women, she says
  • Ghitis: They have reawakened Pakistanis to the threat posed by extremists

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

(CNN) -- Just days before the Nobel committee announces the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, the world found out who stands at the opposite extreme on the quest for peace and justice. We have discovered who the biggest cowards on the planet are today.

The competition for the mark of shame is hard fought, but the title goes to the men who approached a van carrying girls home from school in Pakistan on Tuesday and asked for one very special 14-year-old. Then shot her in the head.

The world's worst cowards are the members of the Pakistani Taliban. Perhaps they believe their thick dark beards, dangerous weapons and fanatical religious pronouncement make them fierce warriors. But their actions tell the true story: The Pakistani Taliban are terrified of a 14-year-old girl named Malala Yousufzai.

And why are they so afraid of Malala? Mostly, because she is not afraid of them.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

And because Malala is a relentless advocate of education for girls, something the Taliban find very threatening.

The Taliban, with all their bravado, seem to fear women most of all.

Taliban gunmen shot teen activist

News: Pakistan enraged over attack on teen blogger

The cravenness that has come to define the group -- also known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP -- is easily matched by Malala's stunning bravery. The fearless activist for girls' education now lies in a hospital bed trying to recover from serious injuries to her head and neck. Overnight doctors performed emergency surgery to remove a bullet near her spinal cord and to relieve swelling in her brain.

Malala knew she was on a TTP hit list, but she did not back down. The Taliban, whose religious, social and political views are founded on a brutally anti-woman ideology, cannot countenance even a young girl challenging their ideas on a blog.

Shortly after Tuesday's assassination attempt, which also left two of Malala's school friends wounded, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan acknowledged the group tried to kill her and vowed they will try to do it again if she survives. As is common, he couched the threats in extreme interpretations of Islam and on repression and intimidation of women. "Any female that, by any means, plays a role in the war against the mujahedeen," Ehsan declared, "should be killed."

News: 'I Am Malala' -- a chorus of support across the world

The TTP spokesman called Malala's advocacy for education "a new chapter of obscenity," adding, "We have to finish this chapter." He also accused her of being pro-West and admiring President Barack Obama.

Malala started to become a problem for the TTP when she was just 11. The Pakistani Taliban, who hold the same ideology but are not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, had taken over Pakistan's Swat Valley. Pakistani politicians were turning a blind eye to what had become an increasingly brutal regime. They executed their critics, ordered all men to grow beards and whipped women in public as punishment for real, imagined or fabricated offenses.

It was all about imposing their will, their version of Islamic law, and subjugating the entire population, but women in particular.

The Taliban reportedly had destroyed more than 200 schools and ordered all girls' schools shut down when Malala slowly emerged from obscurity. In 2009, she started writing a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym, talking about her dreams for the future and how the Taliban were pushing those aspirations further and further out of reach.

Learn more about how you can help at CNN Impact Your World

Her story helped bring attention to the disaster befalling the population of the storied Swat Valley. At about the same time, the videotaped beating of a 17-year-old girl by a group of Taliban went viral in Pakistan, adding chilling images to a girl's lament.

Until then, Pakistan had treated the fight against the Taliban as an American problem, something going on across the border in Afghanistan. Malala helped Pakistanis realize their own country, their own way of life were threatened by the TTP. The government fought back and regained control of the region. She continued to speak out and was the first recipient of her country's National Peace Award last year. She and her cause became celebrated throughout the country, and increasingly despised by extremists and their supporters.

Rural areas of Pakistan and the districts near the Afghanistan border include deeply traditional regions from where the Taliban took much of their social views. Many practices, particularly regarding women, are horrifying to more modern Pakistanis living in places such as the capital, Islamabad.

The country has become a dangerous incubator of fanatically enforced prejudice. A prominent politician who opposed Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws was killed last year. Just last month a Christian girl was sent to prison after her neighbors concocted blasphemy charges against her.

The country has become one of the front lines of the struggle between modernity and the deeply intolerant, misogynistic practices dating back centuries. Malala, despite her young age, stands at the battle line of the push for equality.

iReport: Your views on girls' education

The rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 showed just how the outcome in Pakistan could affect everyone, but especially women's lives. The TTP aims to impose precisely the kind of rules the Taliban forced on Afghans. Afghan women were barred from working, studying, leaving their homes without a male companion. Even laughing out loud was prohibited. They became nonentities, stoned and beheaded at the local stadium, banned from showing their faces, speaking their voices or earning a living.

In 2002, just after the regime was toppled, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of mental health in the country found a vast majority of Afghan women suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A decade later, in bordering Pakistan, in the aftermath of the assassination attempt against Malala, many question if the threat has receded to the extent the authorities claim.

By trying to kill a bright and admired young girl in cold blood, the Taliban have revealed not only their own moral makeup. They have also reawakened the Pakistani people to the threat posed by extremists and the choices the country faces.

Pakistanis are pressuring their populist politicians to speak out against the crime, to take sides.

Pakistan is home to the world's worst cowards. But it's also Malalai's home. Let's hope she makes it, and inspires many to follow in her small but indelible footsteps. There's something -- and someone -- for the Nobel committee to consider.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT