Who are the cruelest people on Planet Earth? Probably the Taliban zealots who formerly ran Afghanistan and still operate as furtive guerrillas, mostly in Pakistan.
While they were in power, they shot women to death before soccer crowds as public punishment for alleged sexual straying. The Dallas Morning News commented:
"The world must never forget the ugly face of Taliban rule.... [They] imposed a total ban on music and television. Even kite-flying was forbidden. Women could not appear in public without being covered from head to toe... [or] without a male-relative escort. In rape cases, the Taliban response was to execute the victim for adultery. Women were banned from working and girls from attending school."
After America helped northern Afghans topple the vicious Taliban regime in 2001, the fanatics regrouped in mountain regions and in Pakistan's Swat Valley. They attempted to force all Swat schools to stop teaching girls.
At age 11, a brave Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, whose father was a schoolmaster, began writing an anonymous Internet blog about the peril of attending school, never knowing when armed attackers might invade a classroom. She wrote that she wanted to become a doctor, and was willing to take risks to become educated.
After the Taliban were driven from the Swat Valley, Malala and her family felt it was safe to reveal her identity. She became an admired hero in Pakistan, praised by leaders for her courage. She was awarded Pakistan's first National Peace Prize in 2011 and received other accolades. Now she's 14.
But on Oct. 9, Taliban killers boarded her school bus, called her out by name, and shot her in the head. Two other girls were wounded in the gunfire. Malala survived, and is clinging to life. Taliban leaders boasted of the attack and said "let this be a lesson" to anyone "preaching secularism" and "so-called enlightened moderation."
Millions of Pakistanis are horrified by this barbaric perversion of religion. Government leaders denounced it. Newspapers called it savage. President Obama called it "reprehensible and disgusting and tragic."
We hope the Taliban become reviled as monsters, repudiated by decent, compassionate Muslims. "Let this be a lesson" is apt. They gave the world a lesson in what fanaticism is like.