Malala Yousafzai. Pakistani. Shot in the face three times. Martadinata “Ita” Haryono. Indonesian. Slashed in the neck and stabbed ten times. Joshua Wong. Hong Konger. Dragged from street protest and arrested (released after 40 hours of arrest without charge). Accused by Chinese media as an American agent and is labeled an “extremist”.
These people have something in common: they are all children.
Malala was fifteen when the Taliban shot her. Ita was eighteen when she was murdered in brutally. Joshua was seventeen when police confiscated his computer and smartphone. Why such violent repercussions needed against them?
Their pictures show the harmlessness of their youth. Malala dressed like a typical Pashtun girl, a long scarf covering her head, neck, and most of her body. Ita was an ordinary Chinese Jakartan girl who passed her teenage years in the 90s, slender and gap-toothed with medium-length hair. Joshua is the stereotypical Asian nerd – skinny, thick glasses, and a bowl haircut.
What made muscular men who were trained to incapacitate and kill combatants with their bare hands used physical force to silence them?
More importantly, what prompted men with considerable power to wage wars against these teenagers? Malala, Ita and Joshua are described as activists. Malala wrote a blog for BBC Urdu. Ita, a rape survivor, joined the Volunteers for Humanity group and was due to testify in United States. Joshua founded the politically outspoken Scholarism student group.
But it’s not activism that made them a target of politically motivated savagery, for not all activists were violently assaulted. The Pakistani Taliban said they had no problem with Imran Khan, who describes himself as a liberal, is married to a half-Jew, and advocates peace with India on Kashmir. The late human rights activist Munir Said Thalib was poisoned, not slashed. Chen Guangcheng was permitted to move to United States. So why reserving the bloodlust for children?
There are two possibilities. One is that violent assault on adults is too politically risky. Dead kids are less potent symbols of resistance and martyrdom.
The other possibility is that outspoken children raise the blood pressure of evil men faster than adults. Especially girls, like Malala and Ita.
Who are the bad men? In the case of Malala, the Pakistani Taliban. In handwriting she had described how girls were not permitted to go to school. After the Pakistani Army regained control of her homeland, Malala appeared in Pakistani media, where she advocated education for women. The Taliban took the troubles of sending newspaper adverts and Facebook messages threatening her and her family.
After her shooting, a Taliban spokesman said, “She forced us to do it.” It was apparently a decision made through a vote.
The evil men who killed Ita were more shadowy, but Indonesian and foreign observers agreed that elements in the military and/or intelligence were responsible for the gruesome murder. The Jakarta police quickly concluded that a hoodlum living nearby her house was responsible and had killed her in panic following a botched robbery attempt.
They did not link her murder to the fact that Volunteers of Humanity’s members had received death threats on the phone and directly since June 1998. Its plan to bring the battle to the United States intensified the threats and in the aftermath of Ita’s murder (and possibly rape), spokespersons for police and, strangely, the Army (which has no business investigating robberies and murders) readily defamed her as a drug user.
Unlike the Pakistani Taliban, Ita’s murderers did not admit their crime, but when they made the decision, they must have believed that she forced them to kill her.
At the time of this writing, any proof of physical assault on Joshua is not known, but dozens of students and bystanders had been injured by the Hong Kong Police using pepper spray, tear gas, and baton (it denied that it used rubber bullets). Police spokesman said that they had to do something, since the protest was “not good for ordinary people”.
In these three cases, the offenders said that the children forced them to take violent actions, because the children did not listen to their warnings. They blamed the children for making them pull the trigger, slashing the throat and swinging the baton. As if they were done in self-defense.
But they might have a point. Their ways of life were being threatened by these children activists, although not directly. The Taliban believes that educated women will undermine masculinity, their authority and their influence. They’d rather risk going to hell for killing than allowing a girl to solve a logarithm equation.
Martadinata Haryono’s killers feared that when the American media heard her story, the world would turn their attention more on what happened in the May 1998 riots. Mass rapes that occurred during the unrests could no longer be denied and more witnesses would come out. Generals and political leaders could face the end of their careers, becoming persona non grata in the US, or even an international suspect in crime against humanity.
Chinese Communist Party’s biggest fear is that Joshua Wong would inspire the citizens of China to demand democracy and other political rights. Hong Kong would be the least of its problem. In mid-September, Hong Kong tycoons were summoned to Beijing, partly to check their loyalty, partly to remind them the kind of harm people like Joshua could do to their monopolies.
Kids do not always lead political movements. But when they do, evil men’s faith in the stupidity and obedience of their subjects are shaken. Here are people who do not fear them. Here is the child who reveals the truth about the emperor’s clothes, or his lack thereof.
Because once the child yells the fact, the grownups will join in. So before the adults can point out the truth, a royal assassin must first “take care” of the child. .
Silly evil men – there are always other children.
About Mario Rustan
Mario sees the bright side of being perpetually in the Friend Zone – at least he is still invited to girls’ night out. He writes regularly for The Jakarta Post and blogs on Asian football. He finds teaching History and Australian culture enjoyable, if only he could do it more often. Tweet him on @mariorustan.