Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Girl's courage, Taliban's cowardice

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
October 15, 2012 -- Updated 1545 GMT (2345 HKT)
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
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT