Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The other reason we should worry for Malala

Why did the Taliban shoot Malala Yousafzai?

So far that’s the question everybody has been afraid to ask, mainly because we already know the answer. The Taliban tried to murder young Malala because Islamists tremble at the thought of a woman – any woman – demanding the right to an education. In the case of the Taliban the fear is of women demanding anything beyond a dull life of housebound slavery.

We know why the Taliban shot Malala because, when its guard slips, the Taliban tell us why. Not through words, but with deeds. Take a moment to read the stories, if you can stomach them, of the past atrocities: the bearded ideologues throwing acid into women’s faces, the stoning of rape victims and the fear of schoolgirls like Malala. Do so and you will soon notice that Islamism is, at its core, little more than male insecurity on steroids – in the Taliban’s case enforced with Kalashnikovs and IEDs.

The other reason nobody has yet asked why the Taliban shot Malala is because the latter is still enjoying her honeymoon period with western intellectuals. In an age where our own children are increasingly disinclined to so much as open a book, Malala was willing to die for the right to read and joyfully – joyfully – imbibe the wisdom found on the page. How could your average western liberal fail to warm to young Malala Yousafzai?

But at some point western liberals will turn on Malala, just as they did with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch-American feminist, before her. Whether they turn on Malala next week, next month or next year is less certain; the fact, however, is that they will turn on her in order to maintain an illusion they have been clinging to for the past 10 years: that extremism is, when it comes to the pinch, a problem caused by the west. The fact that Malala was shot for wanting to go to school is incompatible with this belief, and therefore another question will be soon be asked in the universities and the pages of the London Review of Books: why did the Taliban ‘really’ shoot Malala?

This will happen, ultimately, because Malala Yousafzai has put many liberals in the west in a very tight spot. If you have spent a great deal of your time since 2001 arguing that Islamist fanaticism is at root a response to western foreign policy, how on earth do you now explain away what the Taliban did to young Malala? How do you even begin to argue that the attempted murder of a schoolgirl is really just a misguided ‘anti-imperialist’ response to … schoolchildren dying in drone strikes?

You can’t, unless you start to ask the question: why did the Taliban ‘really’ shoot Malala?

Tortuous arguments and feats of logic will be used to justify the asking of the question, too. There cannot, some will reason, be movements which are motivated solely by a hatred of women and a fear of sex, therefore the Taliban must have attacked Malala, not because she wanted an education, but because of George Bush, or Iraq, or Palestine, or ‘cultural imperialism’, or drones (insert preference). Rather than grasp what is right in front of their noses – that there are and always have been lots of men, in both east and west, who are terrified of female empowerment – many will prefer to go in the search of less disconcerting justifications which fit more comfortably with already-existing worldviews.

This is why, before long, Malala’s honeymoon with the west will be over, and many liberals will start to ask why the Taliban ‘really’ shot Malala. Doing this will be a great deal easier than grasping that the past decade spent looking for a ‘root cause’ for terrorism has been wasted. Even if it does mean abandoning Malala.


James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward. He tweets @J_Bloodworth


Image : Michael Volpicelli

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James Bloodworth

is a journalist and author of The Myth of Meritocracy


  • I
    don’t know anybody who thinks that ‘Islamism’ (such as the ideology of
    the Taliban) is caused by West. Islamic terrorism AGAINST the West, yes
    (to the extent that it exists) is evidently linked to the Palestinian
    issue and the West’s unwavering support of Zionist expansionism. But
    terrorism and Islamism are not the same thing, if they were, we would be
    at war with Saudi Arabia and the Taliban would have been deposed long
    before 9/11. The West doesn’t care about Islamism and never has. It’s
    disingenuous to conflate the two issues like this article attempts to
    do, and only serves the agenda it purports to expose.

  • James, your argument contains an unfortunate logical flaw that rather undermines your point.

    It is curious that you argue those intellectuals who make the case for understanding the Taliban in the context of previous foreign interventions cannot explain why the Taliban would target young women who are being educated. In fact quite the opposite is true.

    Girls being educated are targeted because they represent, in the perception of the Taliban, the westernising influences that the group developed in opposition to. It makes sense that a group who developed in opposition to foreign influences would target those individuals and institutions that they believe now represent those outside influences.

    That of course does not make the Taliban right, indeed it highlights the substantial security challenges the Afghan government faces in keeping its citizens safe, but any security challenge needs to be properly understood before it can tackled. Evidently we are not there yet in understanding fully the motivations of the Taliban.

    You seem to be of the view that the Taliban developed in isolation from Afghanistan’s wider historical development (defined in many ways by the constant interference of great powers). It makes very little historical sense to argue this to be the case, and rather suggests that you think there is something intrinsically damaging about some cultures in this part of the world. If that is your view thankfully knowledgeable ‘western intellectuals’ have long since abandoned such old fashioned views about cultures which are not our own, and how they develop for good or for ill.

  • “Girls being educated are targeted because they represent, in the
    perception of the Taliban, the westernising influences that the group
    developed in opposition to.”

    I would argue that girls are targeted simply because they are girls, much like females are targeted right across the world by misogynists simply because they happen to be female. This is in fact one of the driving forces behing the anti-West agenda. Hostility toward the West does not so much cause misogyny, so much as result from it.

  • The prevalence of misogyny in most places of the world (including the West) should not lead to the mistaken view that the causes of it are identical every where it occurs. The need in many societies for masculine dominance is a proxy for other forms of powerlessness (or fear of it among the powerful). In some parts of the developing world that powerlessness occurs within the context of foreign domination (alongside poverty, domestic political chaos etc).

    In the Taliban context their extreme misogyny has developed partly as a response to weakness in the face of outsiders and/or from domestic rivals who emerged as threats amid the chaos left when the Russians departed. The violent targeting of women and the development of this particular form of misogyny is explicitly linked to external interference.

    Attempts to explain the Taliban and their particular culture without reference to the historical context of outside interference can only produce a partial and unsatisfactory understanding of the group and their motivations.

  • “In the Taliban context their extreme misogyny has developed partly as a
    response to weakness in the face of outsiders and/or from domestic
    rivals who emerged as threats amid the chaos left when the Russians

    Extreme misogyny is not confined to the Taliban or indeed to
    Islam. It’s a phenomenon we see all around the world in various guises at to varying degrees. The cause is very similar: the view that that women’s sexuality is dangerous and must be controlled. We see this time and again whether in the form of the wife-beater who will not allow his partner to leave the home in a short skirt, to the tribes that mutilate the genitals of a female so that she is unable to enjoy sexual pleasure.

    Much like the founder of modern Islamism, Sayid Qutb, was not provoked in his hatred of the West by “imperialism”, but by his squimishness at the way women behaved on his trip to the states.

    Of course there are cultural peculiarities specific to the Taliban, but the basic impulse is the same. That is in fact the complete opposite of the idea you ascribe to me – that “there is something intrinsically damaging about some cultures in this part of the world”. I am saying that it’s something much more fundamental to humanity that is the cause of the problem, rather than something culturally specific.

  • I think you are oversimplifying what is a complex set of problems. The prevalence of misogyny is not constant; it has varied over times and locations. This has been largely due to the historical developments of the affected locations and how those cultures responded to those changes. For example the Victorian attitude toward women was a response to the industrial revolution and the rapid social change that followed. In colonial and post-colonial contexts, such as Afghanistan, misogyny was one response to the powerlessness felt by men who were dominated by foreign rivals. You cannot separate the cultural development of misogyny from the historical context in which it has developed. In this case the context is of Afghan response to foreign intervention. The targeting of women may be a common response in many places, but the genesis of that particular development cannot be universalised into a species wide explanation. To say homo sapien males are frequently cruel to homo sapien females is true enough, but if said out with the context of the particular case that statement tells us virtually nothing helpful that will enable us to understand why it has occurred.

    Going back to the original point; if we are to understand why Malala and others are being targeted it requires a comprehensive understanding of Taliban culture. That can only be done in reference to the historical context within which they developed, and it is unarguably the case
    that that context is one defined by foreign military intervention.

  • The notion that ‘Islamic terrorism AGAINST the West…. is evidently linked to the Palestinian
    issue’ is purest garbage. It is a matter of record that Osama bin Laden for example was originally not even concerned about the Palestine issue until he belatedly realised its popularity with western leftists. Your response is typical of the blindness that this article is rightly criticising.
    You need to understand that Islamists do in fact believe their own ideology, even if that is inconvenient for western leftists to grasp. It isn’t ‘about’ something else. It’s a reactionary, brutal and totalitarian ideology which seeks to oppress women, murder Jews and homosexuals and destroy precisely those freedoms which western liberals claim to value.
    No amount of special pleading, or blaming Israel, America or anyone else, will erase this simple fact.

  • Is it only me or have I imagined that Malala is now destined to spend her life in the West. Let us be realistic on this. Western Governments have fallen over themselves to court Malala as of now it suits their needs.
    In time this will change and like many before her, her courage will be forgotten.
    Whether Malala likes it or not she will become Westernised and be rolled out when the West needs someone to highlight terrorist acts on the innocent.
    She is forever now destined to fight her very worthwhile cause at the whim of the Western media and Politicians but only until the media have the space to let her air her mission.
    As we all know how fickle both Politicians and the media are I believe this timescale will be only to brief.

  • excellent yes am waiting for the end of malala project, she is going to be used and there she goes in the dust bin and wont be able to complain got more than she could have dream about.

  • It makes me sick how the multicultural left have swooned over Malala, kissing her feet and accommodating her every desire while there are persecuted people in Britain who are dying on hospital beds, starving and freezing due to high taxation because of the government’s insulting policies which completely abandon ethnically British people.
    We need to get the focus away from foreign countries and foreign problems until we fix our own immigration/population and financial problems. So send Malala back with her extended family, we don’t have the room, or the resources to look after her.

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