As Malala Yousafzai fights for her life after having a bullet removed from her neck at a hospital in Peshawar, an outpouring of shock, grief and anger has swept across Pakistan and the world.
Shot by a Taliban gunman as she boarded a school bus on Tuesday, Malala was already a well-known icon for her anonymous blog chronicling her life as a school girl in Pakistan’s perilous Swat Valley. By the age of 14, she had been recognized by international organizations and Pakistan’s own government for exposing the Taliban's atrocities and advocating girls' education in the face of extremism.
Pakistani government officials, the army and the public responded quickly and angrily to the attacks.
Schools shut their doors, candlelight vigils were held and a school in Peshawar was renamed as Malala Yousufzai Government Girls Secondary School.
In one of the country’s leading newspapers, Dawn, an editorial demanded to know why Malala had not been provided security by the government, particularly after receiving a national peace award in 2011 from then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
“The moot question is when security could be provided to the ruling elite, why was Malala left at the mercy of militants?” it said.
“Returning from school without any security guard, she was a soft target for those who wanted to eliminate her because of her thinking.”
Malala’s story also created a stir across the blogosphere and social media. Within minutes of the attack, comments on Malala’s Facebook timeline rose by the hundreds and the Twitter hashtags #Malala and #Swat were created.
Amna Nawaz, a journalist with NBC News, tweeted: “Taliban added #Malala to hitlist early 2011. She continued to speak out and advocate for peace. Bravery beyond her own nation's leaders.”
Others condemned the Taliban, saying that it was time for Muslim scholars in Swat Valley to step up and publicly denounce their actions.
"Over here we can say anything we want," Amin Elshorbagy, the president of the Saskatoon-based Canadian Islamic Congress, said. “But Islamic scholars in these regions need to state in very clear terms, that don’t carry double interpretations, that these acts are not Islamic."
Raheel Raza, a Canadian-Pakistani author and consultant, said she was particularly perturbed by messages she received in response to her posting on Facebook of a public letter the Taliban wrote justifying the attack.
The letter boasted responsibility for the shooting, in response to Malala’s “campaign against Islamic law and secularism.” Raza received a torrent of messages from Muslims after the posting, claiming that the Taliban were not Muslim.
“Somehow if the accused is not a Muslim it’s not considered their responsibility. People distance themselves by saying they’re not Muslims,” she says.
“The unfortunate truth of the matter is that they are Muslim. Saying they are not Muslims does not solve the problem.
“If we go back to our history, we will see that the people who killed the grandson of the Prophet were also Muslim – and said their prayers before committing the act. But there is a deafening silence when I bring this up.”
To others, Malala’s story brings hope and inspiration for change.
One Canadian woman wrote to a Toronto-based Muslim organization suggesting that a "Women’s Rights Day" be held in honour of Malala’s courage against the Taliban. Another group of Toronto-based Pakistani youth based in Toronto also proposed holding a demonstration outside Parliament Hill in Ottawa condemning the attack.
For one Pakistani-Canadian writing in Dawn on Wednesday, Malala’s struggle for justice symbolizes hope and strength against all odds. “Malala is what the Taliban will never be,” says Murtaza Haider, an Associate Dean at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.
“She is fearless, enlightened, articulate, and a young Muslim woman who is the face of Pakistan and the hope for a faltering nation that can no longer protect its daughters.”