A Letter to Tashfeen Malik

Dear Tashfeen,

You are dead and gone now, a lifeless body on a California highway barely covered by a blanket. Your legs splayed, your shirt ridden up, blood seeping from you and draining out onto the road. No different in death to the 14 people that you helped to kill killed only a few hours before you ended up the same way. An ignominous, cruel end, headlines around the world, and more questions than there are answers for what you did.

The news of the San Bernadino shooting, the 13th mass shooting in the United States this week alone, broke hearts around the country. When it emerged that one of the shooters, Syed Rizwan Farooq, was possibly Muslim, Muslims everywhere started to become afraid. When we learned that the shooting took place at a facility for people with developmental disorders, disgust rose. But to the news that you, the wife and accomplice of the shooter, Tashfeen Malik, were a Pakistani woman, I had the opposite reaction to fear. I became enraged. That’s why I’m writing this to you, because there are things that need to be said, from one Pakistani woman to another.

I don’t know anything about you other than that you were 27 years old, that you lived in Saudi Arabia, that you came to the United States as the wife of a Pakistani-American, and that you had a baby daughter. Were you a brainwashed victim of a husband’s violent ideology? Were you a good wife, loyal to the end to your ordinary-looking, middle class husband? Did you imagine yourself as Bonnie to his Clyde, guns blazing, together in life as well as in death?

Still, what grievance could have pushed you to put on tactical gear, take up weapons, and slaughter innocent people? Whether this was a “terrorist attack” or another “violence in the workplace” incident, I can’t imagine anything so bad as to make you leave your baby daughter behind, orphaned, defenseless. Imagine her legacy. The daughter of mass murderers.

You are the definition, the epitome, of a terrible mother.

I’m not even going to get into the issue of your Islam. I know nothing about your beliefs, your practice, your way of thinking, your upbringing. It’s clear that something went very wrong in your brain; whether or not you espoused any ideology, you had a propensity for violence. And if it emerges that you used Islam as your vehicle to express that violent streak, you will only be another in a long line of sociopaths and psychopaths who are doing the same thing all over the world – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Pakistan, where you and I are both from. There is nothing special about you in that respect. You are a cliche. You have lost your ability to shock or awe in the very predictability of your actions and your rationale.

But there’s one more thing. With your actions, you have smeared Pakistani women – 100 million of us at home, millions who live in the diaspora. With your act of blazing, outrageous and insupportable violence, you have done much to ruin what we have been working for, for longer than you have been alive. We Pakistani women, who are far more likely to be the victims of rather than perpetrators of violence, who are looking for equality and respect and dignity in our lives, who have to fight so hard to negotiate all the obstacles that our limiting and restrictive environments throw up in our faces.

There are Pakistani women that the world respects: Malala Yousufzai, Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jehangir, Nafis Sadik, Hina Jilani. Those who are educated and knowledgeable about the world remember these names, respect what they stand for. But the majority of the world, the uneducated, the unworldly, will forget their names — if they knew them in the first place — and remember yours when the words “Pakistani woman” come up in any context. We’ll have you to thank when Pakistani women are abused, reviled, spat upon, their children taunted and abused.

If you committed your act of violence for any cause, you failed to achieve your goal, but you achieved a different one: you dragged your Pakistani sisters into the mud. We have a word for that in Urdu: badnaami. You have done this to all of us. And it will take a long time for us to undo the damage that results from it.


Bina Shah

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