Cliff May

A month ago, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked whether the Taliban is a terrorist organization. The question appeared to stump her. “Well, I’m not sure how they are defined at this particular moment,” she told reporters.

So how refreshing was it to hear Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl, speaking from a U.N. podium last week, unequivocally and forthrightly denouncing the Taliban as terrorist and, for good measure, calling into question the courage and intelligence of its members? “They are afraid of women,” she said. “And I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist, why are the Taliban against education? He answered very simply by pointing to his book, he said, ‘A Talib doesn’t know what is written inside this book.’”

It was a Talib, you’ll recall, who last year shot Yousafzai in the head at point-blank range as she was riding a bus home from school in northwest Pakistan. She barely survived, then endured months of hospitalization and reconstructive surgery. A Taliban spokesman called the attack “a warning to all youngsters in the area that they would be targeted if they followed her example.”

Members of the Taliban oppose education for girls based on their reading of Islamic scripture. Yousafzai is a Muslim who rejects such fundamentalism, as she made clear in her U.N. remarks. Indeed, she went out of her way to provoke Salafi Muslims -- those who seek to replicate Islam as it existed in the seventh century -- by saying she had learned “compassion” from “Mohammed, the prophet of mercy,” then immediately noting that she had been inspired also by “Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha,” as well as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.