Did the Taliban overplay their hand when their gunmen shot a 14-year-old Pakistani girl simply because she wanted to go to school? We can only hope.
Just when you think the militant Islamic Taliban movement can't sink any lower, you hear another story as deplorable and cowardly as the shooting of Malala Yousufzai. As the world knows by now, Taliban gunmen shot and critically wounded her in a recent assassination attempt as she was coming home from school in Pakistan's battle-scarred Swat Valley.
Before she was transferred in critical condition this week to a British hospital that specializes in battle injuries, spokesmen for the Pakistan Taliban boldly announced that if she survives, they will try to kill her again.
Her crime? Public advocacy of education for girls. Questioning the Taliban's sexist reading of Shariah law, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan organization told the media in an Oct. 10 letter that Yousufzai was guilty of leading a "campaign against Islam."
In fact, she led no such thing, but the Taliban are too fanatical to see the difference. The letter accuses Yousufzai, who gained global fame through an online diary she wrote for the BBC, of being "pro-West," promoting Western culture and "inviting Muslims to hate mujahedeen," the Taliban term for holy warriors.
In fact, the Taliban, which helped give birth to al-Qaida next door in Afghanistan, have made it easy for the world to hate the movement. This time, one hopes, the Taliban have gone too far for their own good. Even the usually timid, indifferent and corruption-riddled Pakistani national government has been shaken out of its usual lethargy toward Taliban encroachments in the Swat Valley.
Thousands of young people and families have poured into the streets of Pakistan and elsewhere around the globe, some of them wearing "I am Malala" T-shirts and holding up photos of the girl.
She was a very special girl, even at age 11, when Taliban fighters swept into her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009. As documentaries by The New York Times and other media show, Yousufzai came out against the Taliban's ban against the education of girls. Her father ran one of the last schools to defy the Taliban orders. He eventually was forced to close the school, and Yousufzai was forced to flee to Abbottabad, better known to Americans as the town where Osama bin Laden was killed.
Soon she was writing an anonymous blog for the BBC and receiving honors, including a National Youth Peace Prize from Pakistan's then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The Taliban warned her to hush up. She refused. So on Oct. 8, masked gunmen approached her school bus and asked for her by name. Then they shot her in the head and neck.
Did the Taliban go too far this time? The shooting of this one bright, articulate teenager captures our attention and the Taliban's cowardice in ways that thousands of other Taliban atrocities do not. As Frida Ghitis, author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television," recently wrote, the Taliban are afraid of Yousufzai "because she is not afraid of them."
In the past, this sort of media-driven outrage sometimes has shaken the Pakistani government into taking productive action. Three years ago, a chilling cellphone video of a woman being held down and flogged more than 30 times by the Taliban in the Swat Valley made international news. Her crime: being seen in public talking to a man to whom she was not married. Just talking.
That video was shocking enough to spur widespread outrage and military action that pushed the Taliban out of the valley, some all the way to rural Afghanistan.
Now Pakistani authorities are on the move again, making more than 100 arrests related to the attack on Yousufzai, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told CNN last weekend.
Khar, the first woman to hold the job, called Yousufzai's shooting a "wake-up call." Pakistan's government apparently needs awakening. Even as the country's top general rushed to Yousufzai's bedside, Pakistan continued to harbor Afghan Taliban leaders who want to take over Afghanistan after U.S. troops leave.
Yousufzai's problem, the Taliban, is our problem too.
Clarence Page is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/pagespage.