“Few…are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” --Ernest Hemingway
If you don’t yet know the story of 15 year old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, you should. Every one in our world should. If you care at all about human rights and dignity, get to know this incredibly courageous young woman.
Her dream was and is the dream of many children and youth in our world: to be able to go to school and to learn. But for that desire, and for her very public advocacy of this hope for all the girls and young women of Pakistan, a week ago last Tuesday Malala was shot point blank in the head by a Taliban assassin. As I write this column, she lies in a hospital bed in Great Britain, breathing through a ventilator and clinging to life.
Malala’s public story began in her hometown of Mingora in the Swat district of Pakistan. For years Swat has been the focus of radical Islamic fundamentalist Taliban insurgents who seek to impose harsh religious laws upon the populace, including a total ban on the education of girls and woman. The Taliban has already blown up and destroyed hundreds of schools for girls and women across that nation. In 2009 Malala became a very visible target for her outspoken and thoughtful opposition to this policy. While her neighbors and fellow Pakistanis often turned a blind eye to the Taliban or even agreed with their warped religious views, Malala spoke right up. She wrote a very public blog for the British Broadcasting System and was the subject of a New York Times documentary on her life and work, and all at just 11 years of age!
As Malala blogged, “I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27.” And, “On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you.’ I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”
Yet Malala’s fears turned out to be all too true. Her public stature grew. She was nominated for an international peace prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She became the Chair of the District Child Assembly in Swat. The Taliban warned her and her family that she would be shot if she continued to go to school and to speak out. And so on October 9th, as she and her classmates sat on a school bus, Taliban “soldiers” boarded the vehicle, put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. All because, in the words of one BBC editor, “She was just the girl who wanted to go to school.”
Such brutality, cruelty, and evil leaves me almost speechless. What kind of “army” or human being or supposedly “religious” person or movement would assassinate a teenage girl all for the “crime” of trying to go to school? Pakistan is supposedly America’s ally in the war on terror but where are the Pakistani voices of outrage, protest, and bravery to speak up for and protect the children like Malala?
Where and when will the voices of moderate Islam finally emerge in that country and the world? Who will have the guts to finally wrest their faith back from the hands and hearts of folks like the Taliban and their supporters, who use the cover of religion to justify patriarchy and cold blooded murder? Seems to me the citizens of Pakistan need to show much more courage. They already have a great role model in Malala Yousufzai.
In an interview on a morning news show in Pakistan last December, Malala said she was speaking up in spite of the danger and even imagined confronting face to face the Taliban. “I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”
Pray for Malala.