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RUBIN: When girls threaten extremists

  • (WILLIAM BROWN / Tribune Media Services)

These days the news from abroad is mostly grim. So it was inspiring last week to watch Malala Yousafzai — the Pakistani teen shot in the head by the Taliban because of her campaign for girls’ education — standing erect on a U.N. podium on her 16th birthday. It was even more inspiring to hear her moving speech, delivered in a clear, confident voice, which called for free, compulsory schooling worldwide.

She recalled the October day when a talib jumped into her school van, aimed at her forehead point-blank and shot her and two fellow students.

“The Taliban ... thought that the bullets would silence us,” she said. “But they failed.” Malala — as she is now known around the world — was targeted because she had publicly denounced the Pakistani Taliban’s violent campaign against girls’ education in northwest Pakistan and the beautiful Swat Valley. More than 800 schools in those regions have been attacked since 2009, and leading women’s rights activists and teachers have been murdered. Only last month, 14 female students were blown up by a suicide bomber as their school bus traveled from their all-girls college campus in the city of Quetta, Baluchistan, near the Afghan border.

Yet the Taliban failed to kill Malala. Evacuated to England for medical treatment, she made a miraculous recovery. Wrapped in a pink head scarf that once belonged to another courageous woman, the murdered Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto, she described why the Taliban are so hostile to girls’ education.

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens,” she said. “The power of education frightens them. ... The power of the voice of women frightens them. ...

“That is why they killed many female teachers and polio workers. ... That is why they are blasting schools every day. ... They are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our society. ...

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