Malala

Treating Malala’s injuries is not enough.  We need to defend freedom of speech and secularism.

A 14-year old Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot by the Pakistani Taliban a week ago while travelling home from school on a bus. Her crimes were numerous and severe: having the temerity to exercise her freedom of speech to advocate women’s education, to expose the suffering caused by militants, and to promote secularism.

I know, I know, the bare-faced cheek of young girls today.

Malala has arrived in Britain to have her injuries treated and I can’t think of anyone I would welcome more warmly to this country than her, and although the Pakistani government appears to be picking up the bill for her stay and her medical treatment, I also can’t think of anything I would rather British taxes be spent on than sheltering and treating this remarkable heroine.

When Malala regains her strength and starts to absorb this new political environment around her, though, she is in for one hell of a shock. She will see that the West, far from being a beacon of free speech, has at best a schizophrenic attitude to this most valuable of freedoms, especially – ironically – when it comes to holding religious ideas and religious power to account, and especially in the context of one particular “great Abrahamic” religion: the religion of permanent, insatiable anger which doesn’t even need to be named because you know exactly which one I’m talking about. Yes, that one.

In the West we are told not to disrespect or criticise people’s deeply held religious beliefs. Go tell that to Malala, who was presumably questioning and disrespecting the cherished and deeply-held religious beliefs of some devout Muslims: the Pakistani Taliban.

In the West we are told to exercise our freedom of speech “responsibly”. Go tell that to Malala, who was simply writing a blog expressing her opinions, like I am now. Was that a responsible or irresponsible exercise of her freedom of speech? Is what I’m doing now responsible, or irresponsible?

In the West we are told not to cause offence. Go tell that to Malala, who clearly offended brain-dead ogres so severely they had no choice but to try and murder her.

In the West secularists are called aggressive, or intolerant, or militant, or Islamophobic. Or all those things. Go and call Malala those names, as she takes another bullet on the front line of the battle between theocracy and secularism, between barbarity and modernity. Those adjectives don’t quite work with Malala, do they?

The attempted murder of Malala could be a turning point in the West’s attitude to secularism and freedom of speech, both here and abroad. By Jove, there must be some seriously confused culturally-relativist liberals out there at the moment. On the one hand, even with their severe intellectual handicaps, they can’t help but sympathise with poor Malala. But hang on, wait, that’s surely Malala’s culture, isn’t it, to be oppressed by men in the name of a glorious religion? After all, all cultures are equally valid, aren’t they? Who are we – the decadent, imperialist, godless, capitalist, demonic West – to criticise or even question foreign cultures and religions where women are treated like animals and girls are treated like animal brides capable of giving their consent to marriage and sex with people three times their age? Why couldn’t Malala just know her place? Was it really that hard? What made her think she was entitled to the same human rights as white western girls? What in the name of all things Koranic made her think she was entitled to an education? Typical child: always thinking she knows best.

Maybe these shit-for-brains liberals will finally accept that some cultures are better than others: cultures which treat women equally to men are superior, far superior, to cultures that barely give them animal rights let alone human ones; cultures where people are free to speak their mind even where this causes offence are superior, far superior, to those where they aren’t.

And the problem is not only on the political left. Will we finally hear idiots like Moroness Warsi, Eric Pickles and Cristina Odone make an unequivocal commitment to free speech, and accept that absolutely no idea, no belief, and no ideology, however deeply held, even especially religious ones, can escape the disinfecting power of free speech? And might they also accept that politics and religion aren’t necessarily, well, the best of friends, and that it’s a good idea to keep them separate? How can Warsi, Pickles, Odone or anyone else truly claim to support Malala and unimaginably brave girls like her if they don’t think free speech and secularism are desirable?

We are drunk on freedom in the West. We take our rights for granted because we’ve not had to fight for them. We don’t even know we have them so it’s unsurprising we don’t notice them being taken from us. We need girls like Malala to show us – by literally showing us their fresh bullet wounds – how incredibly precious and precarious these freedoms really are.

Free speech and free expression are the only weapons ordinary humans have against bad ideas. Don’t you dare tell Malala, or me, or anyone else, not to use them.

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