Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-i-Taliban, for speaking out about the practice of banning girls from school. In the Tehrik-i-Taliban interpretation of faith, speaking out in this way is speaking against Islam. For many Muslims, modern education, especially for girls, who are easily corrupted, is un-Islamic; not only is education believed to undermine Muslim identity, faith, and practice, but when Muhammad said Muslims have a religious duty to acquire knowledge, many Muslims interpret that to mean religious education only.
This is why it was surprising when Malala said the following: “The more you speak against Islam and against all Muslims, the more terrorists it will create.” Did she mean this to say that her own actions in speaking out against the Islamic belief that secular education is un-Islamic produced the terrorist action that nearly killed her? I would never think to blame the action taken against Malala on her willingness to speak out against oppressive Islamic practice. I encourage more Muslims to speak out against Islam in this way. To be fair, although I did not assume she was intentionally blaming herself for her own suffering, I suppose this could be an interpretation of her words. However, I took Malala’s words at their plain meaning, that is, as a threat. What I heard was a blame-the-victim frame: If you speak against Islam, the terrorism that follows will be your fault.
The quote I provided was immediately followed by: “So it’s important that whatever politicians say, whatever media says, they should be really, really careful about it.” Far from changing the meaning of the first sentence, this second sentence doubles down on the threat. Watch what you say, be careful with your words, or the violence that follows will be on your head. That’s what I hear. To make sure we get the meaning of her words, Malala repeats the same argument. Then she says, “So it’s important that they try to show harmony towards Muslims and say that they’re accepted in this world.” Not only is Malala telling us that speaking against Islam will create more terrorism, but that not joining hands with Muslims and accepting Islam commits the same offense.
These are very troubling words. But I wonder about Malala’s state of mind. How could she not see the irony in telling us that we should not speak against Islam – that indeed we should embrace it – lest we suffer more terrorism when, at the very least, that logic suggests that she is responsible for the terrorism she suffered for daring to speak out against Islam? Can you imagine a racist telling you to lay off the criticism of white supremacy or else black people will suffer more? Can you see the contradiction? Can you see the threat? I certainly don’t accept that Malala is allowed to speak against Islam and I’m not.
Many progressives twist themselves into knots to deny what Malala told the world. I know they would sing a different tune if, on the grounds of deeply-held religious beliefs, a Christian extremist shot a Christian girl who survived to tell us that criticizing Christianity will cause more Christian extremism. We would say, rightly, that it’s sad that this young Christian woman is so deeply affected by her religious indoctrination that she would go on the road to tell her audiences that, in order to avoid what happened to her, others should not to speak against Christianity, that people needs to be very careful what they say about Christianity and Christians, and, moreover, that we should embrace Christianity. Malala has been picked as a spokesperson for human rights. But she is either being used or seeks to be a shill for Islam.