This 14-year-old girl has occupied nothing more than a school bus


Maajid Nawaz

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In 1993 the Egyptian Islamic Jihad attempted to assassinate the interior minister, Atef Sidqi. They chose the moment when Mr Sidqi’s convoy passed a girls’ school to detonate their bomb. The minister survived but a schoolgirl, Shayma Abdel-Halim, was killed.

Her funeral procession through Cairo turned Egyptian public opinion against jihadism for good. By 1999 the largest jihadist group in Egypt, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, had lost the war and capitulated ideologically.

The shooting of Malala Yousufzai in Swat offers the Pakistan Government a similar opportunity. The spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban (TTP) not only claimed responsibility for the targeted shooting of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, but also went on to justify murdering any child who opposes Sharia or supports secularism. “Malala was targeted because of her pioneering role in preaching secularism and so-called ‘enlightened moderation’. Whomsoever commits so in the future will be targeted again by the TTP.”

He and his fellow jihadis see the shooting as a noble cause, justified by a cocktail of ideological poison, theological manipulation, political righteousness and victimhood. They and their apologists use such acts of violence to grind their axe against Western imperialism. But if this was really about Western occupation and civilian casualties — and they do occur — why target a 14-year-old schoolgirl who has never dropped a bomb from a drone in her life nor occupied anything more than her school bus?

Far from being the legitimate voice of grievance, the Taleban have become one of these grievances themselves. As adherents to Islamism they see the individual as merely an instrument to be recruited or eliminated in pursuit of their goal. The cause is what matters, not the killing. They believe that secularism and Westernisation have disturbed God’s natural order and only victory will set things right.

Pakistan still has no national counter-extremism strategy. NACTA, the body set up with EU grants to perform this task, sits like a toothless tiger in Islamabad writing nothing but reports. In that strategic vacuum any formal national response to Malala’s shooting here in Pakistan is bound to be opportunistic and short-term.

Instead Pakistan should grasp this moment in the psyche of the nation to turn the ideological tide against the Taleban and their supporters for good. If they don’t, it’s only a matter of time before another imbecile makes a gratuitous attack on Islam, reinforcing the Taleban narrative and providing a twisted justification for them to kill more children.