A 14-year-old girl in Pakistan is, hopefully, recovering from shots to her head and neck. Malala Yousufzai, winner of last year’s International Children’s Peace Prize, was shot on Oct. 9 for speaking out against a Taliban ban on girls’ education, as she continued to fight for the right to an education for herself and all other girls in her country.
The influential Sunni council in Pakistan has declared that the Taliban’s attempted murder of the child is against the teachings of Islam. The shooting occurred only days before the UN launched the first commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child on Oct. 11.
Muslims everywhere have been extra sensitive and defensive following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US, as terrorists and other extremists besmirch the name of Islam.
Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, should call on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), of which it is a member, to ensure that all member governments uphold the rights of its populations, particularly under governments where religious authorities call the shots across the country, or in parts of the country.
Pakistan’s trade-off for security in its volatile areas has led to complacency in dealing with the Taliban, to which it gives free reign to impose its medieval rules, such as banning females from gaining an education and from the entire public sphere.
The OIC has said it is drafting its own declaration of human rights, which has raised questions on how it will differ from the UN Convention on human rights, to which Indonesia is also bound. It is only rulers who benefit from interpretations that the UN human rights standards are “Western”, as we experienced ourselves during the New Order era.
Indonesia’s past practice of placing values of collectiveness before individual good were interpreted as bans against criticizing the government, with harsh punishment and stigmatization for violators. Yet Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi recently said that the definition of human rights in Indonesia today must conform to local religious and cultural values.
It is precisely such local, religiously misinterpreted standards that led to the shooting of Malala. Sadly, it may not be entirely credible for Indonesia to call on the OIC to reprimand governments for their human rights records. Our government itself has virtually endorsed local policies that regulate morality, religious standards and restrictions on minorities — such as the Ahmadis and Shiites — and ministerial regulations that effectively constrain the building of churches.
We do not have powers like the Taliban; any such potential religious power was crushed long ago by president Soeharto. And we value our girls and their freedoms. But Malala’s shooting is an extreme impact of authorities who do not acknowledge the non-derogable human rights of every citizen, young and old.