Is it possible that the Taliban has finally shot one young woman too many?

Malala Yousufzai, universally known in her home country of Pakistan simply as Malala, is a 14-year-old girl who, despite her young age, has become well-known as an activist and advocate for women's rights in Pakistan, especially the right to an education.

This is deeply threatening to the Taliban - which ironically enough means "students" - who rely on ignorance and oppression to maintain their reign of terror based on an extreme and militant version of the Islamic religion.

Some two weeks ago, Taliban fighters boarded Malala's school bus as she was returning home from school and shot her in the head and neck, wounding two of her classmates in the same attack. She survived, however, and the attack has become a rallying point for Pakistanis tired of the conflict and repression the Taliban has brought to their country.

Tens of thousands have rallied and protested in support of Malala and against the Taliban since the shooting. Observers hope that this will translate into more popular support of the military operations against the Taliban, and a dramatic reduction in the public support of the Taliban which allows it to operate within Pakistan.

Meanwhile Malala herself has been moved twice: first, for her own protection, to a military hospital within Pakistan. More recently she was airlifted to Britain, head of the Commonwealth of Nations to which both Pakistan and its neighbor and regional rival India belong, for more specialized care and to get her that much farther away from possible Taliban reprisals or attempts to finish the job

In a sense, though, Malala has won, regardless of what the Taliban does at this point. So long as she lives, she will be a hero, a living embodiment of courage in the face of oppression. And if she dies or is killed, she will be a martyr for the cause of equality and the right of women and girls to receive a decent education. The Taliban, meanwhile, are being revealed as more and more extreme, and more and more desperate.

An organization which is so fearful of change, and so bankrupt of positive ideas and ideals to offer, that it has to attempt the assassination of a 14-year-old girl is an organization which is rapidly approaching the proverbial dustbin of history. We may look back in the not-too-distant future at the tragic attack on Malala as the moment when the Taliban - and by extension, radical militant Islam - finally overreached, overstepped itself, and in the process, brought about the beginnings of its own end.

We may hope so, at any rate, because while it is important and necessary that terrorism be opposed by every means, including force of arms, one thing we should have learned by now is that terrorism cannot be defeated solely by force of arms. It can be defeated only by a change in the hearts and minds of those who have supported it, or at least tolerated and acquiesced to it. Like a tumor, it can be destroyed only by cutting off the supply of blood - or in this case, public support or toleration - which has nourished it.

By attacking this young girl, whose only crime is to want an education and a future for herself and her sisters, the Taliban may have done just that. Let us hope that is the case. And let us pray for a full and complete recovery for Malala, a young and peaceful warrior in the fight for truth, freedom and opportunity.

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