In reading the comments sections of the various news articles regarding the Taliban’s attempted assassination of Malala Yousufzai, a constant theme from commentors has been the accusation that the Islamic world culturally is a thousand years or more behind the West. How quickly we as Americans forget our history, in the case of Pakistan in particular I would put the number closer to 50 years. With the outraged response from from Pakistanis at the attack on Malala, I can’t help but to think that this is Pakistan’s equivalent of the American Civil Rights reaction to the murder of Emmit Till. The analogy is not perfect but the end effect might be the same which could spell bad news for the Pakistani Taliban.
When Emmit Till was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman, he wasn’t trying to bring attention to racial injustice in the South. He was, though, choosing to ignore long established customs that were adhered to at the time because breaching these customs in that time and place was incredibly dangerous if not suicidal. In speaking out against the Pakistani Taliban, Malala Yousufzai was doing the exact same thing and both of these situations resulted in murderous violence. In both cases the victims of this reactionary violence were 14 years old which helped sway public opinion against their attackers. It is important to note that for black Americans in the Jim Crow South violence and murder was an all too regular occurrence, just as violence and injustice is against women in the Pakistani tribal region today. Had these crimes occurred against adult victims public responses within the regions would have been muted, if noted at all. The age of the victims in these cases seems to have been the cultural tipping point.
The most important similarity, and the basis for my saying that Pakistani culture is only 50 years behind the west rather than 1,000 years, is that the crime against Malala has provoked and unprecedented response in Pakistan condemning the Taliban. As was the case in the American Civil Rights movement, once the first voices began to raise up against racism in the South, the masses of Southerners who had hitherto kept silent in the face of injustice out of fear of reprisal finally gained the courage to speak out. Once this process began no amount of racial terror was able to stem the demand for racial justice and the days of Jim Crow were numbered. What I’m reading today may be the cultural equivalent in Pakistan. Public opinion has turned against the oppressors and, what begins now as public support for Malala Yousufzai may turn into a watershed moment, one where the majority’s previously silent disapproval of the Taliban becomes a demand for justice and a deathknell for misogynist terror.