The dark side of religion is that without temperance, it produces monsters that use it as an excuse to commit horrendous acts against their fellow humans.
No better example of that is in the latest Taliban atrocity; the shooting of a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who had the temerity to oppose their policies of female oppression and had made an international name for herself in the process. She was quietly sitting on a bus when her assailant boarded, asked where she was sitting and shot her in what obviously was a planned attack sanctioned by her country's chapter of the radical Muslim group.
Malala Yousufzai's only crime was to defy the organization's ban on female schooling, aimed at keeping women subservient to the point of being chattel. She was in the forefront of spoiling a good thing as far as they were concerned.
Immediately following al-Qaida's September 2001 attack on the United States, the Taliban was almost annihilated in Afghanistan during the hunt to find Osama bin Laden. But that effort got set back -- and extended beyond reason -- by the withdrawal of resources to invade Iraq. Now the Taliban's resurgence makes it clear that when we do pull out of this frightfully unstable area of the world, the monstrous organization quickly will be back in full force.
The upshot is that we will have sacrificed a large number of young Americans and still not protected the rights of women and children in a civilized culture. The Taliban's misuse of religion will see to that quicker than one can face toward Mecca.
As the two candidates for president prepare to debate foreign policy, Yousafzai's name should be prominent as a symbol of the future role of the United States in the Middle East -- probably more so than the slain Americans in Libya by a branch of the same group.
Republican Mitt Romney has contended that President Barack Obama has done little more than count on hope for a diplomatic solution in Iran and elsewhere, not a satisfactory policy. He has even argued that we left Iraq too soon.
Obama, for his part, has argued that while we are prepared to take action against nuclear proliferation, diplomacy and sanctions must be given time to succeed.
Neither can be expected to have an answer for what is an irrational and virile hatred of all things Western by those who live in a centuries-old tribal culture whose fanaticism seems never to end. Perhaps it is time to allow those who follow such religiously repressive standards to carry on without interference.
The question for the U.S. president and his challenger would be: How can we ever make a dent in altering the mindset of fanatical men who prefer the barbarism and inequalities of the 11th century? We can't fight an inculcated set of beliefs based on distortion of their own religion without eradicating those who follow these ideas, a solution not feasible no matter how desirable.
Malala Yousafzai thought she could make a difference.
In her diary about life under Taliban rule that she wrote for BBC Urdu, Yousafzai said that she and her classmates faced intimidation even over the colors of clothes they wore to school and constantly lived in fear that someone would harm them on the way to and from school and other places in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
Swat has again become a tourist destination after the Taliban moved nearer the Afghan border with Pakistan. But before they fled Pakistani troops, the Taliban had bombed any number of schools, apparently most of them schools for girls.
This courageous young woman stood up and was heard and honored -- and has paid a terrible price for merely asking to live a full and educated life in a free society. Romney and Obama should recognize this in their debate tonight.
(Dan Thomasson is former editor of Scripps Howard News Service.)