I don’t know when I have ever been more moved by the bravery of anyone than when I heard about the 14-year old girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head last week for speaking out against the Taliban’s ban on education for girls. She’s been an activist since she was 11.
Malala Yousafzai was coming home from school when armed men on a motorcycle stopped the van she was riding in and demanded to know which of the girls aboard was her. The men opened fire, shooting Malala in the head and the neck. They also shot two other girls, all of whom have survived despite serious injuries.
Malala has been moved to a hospital in Britain where better medical care is available, and where, hopefully, she will be safer. The Taliban has already said that if she survives, they will kill her. They call her speaking out for education rights an “obscenity.”
Sometimes it’s hard to fathom how life is so different for people in other areas of the world.
Most 14-year olds in this country are just beginning high school, as was Malala, but for most, their greatest concern is becoming popular, deciding what to wear or which reality show to watch.
I don’t mean to trivialize the lives of American girls, because I know that many do deal with serious issues and the high school years can be tough on anybody.
Still, who can imagine not being allowed to go to school because you’re a girl? Or having your fingers chopped off for wearing nail polish?
Malala began her life as an activist when she started writing a blog for the BBC in 2009 under a pen name, Gul Makai. She wrote about her life in Swat Valley, a scenic area that once was a tourist attraction before the Taliban had taken over the area a couple of years before.
During those years, the Taliban blew up about 200 schools, banned girls from getting an education and forced young men to grow long beards.
Here is an entry from her blog as quoted in the BBC News Magazine: “I was in a bad mood while going to school because winter vacations are starting from tomorrow. The principal announced the vacations but did not mention the date the school was to reopen.
“The girls were not too excited about vacations because they knew if the Taliban implemented their edict [banning girls’ education] they would not be able to come to school again. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again.”
Malala became well known for voicing her thoughts in her blog and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize last year.
Last November she was awarded Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize.
Women and girls in Pakistan are enraged and unified since the attack on Malala. The news of Malala’s shooting has sparked international outrage as well (Madonna even stripped on stage to show her support for the young girl—don’t ask me why), and brought to light the fact that millions of children, both male and female, don’t have the freedom to pursue even a basic education.
I wondered if Malala’s parents supported her blog, and then I read that her father runs a local private school, and that he’s also been outspoken about education rights and received death threats himself.
Malala’s passion for getting an education reminds me of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became an abolitionist. He was consumed with the desire to learn read, even as a young child, back in the day when it was against the law to teach slaves to do so. Somehow he instinctively realized that knowledge would empower him, just as those who oppress know that too and resist it.
Frederick Douglas became an abolitionist and one of America’s greatest writers and orators and is credited with saying, “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”
The bravery and intense desire for freedom of people like Malala and Frederick Douglas leaves me in awe, but also makes me a bit uncomfortable. For what kind of freedoms would I be willing to put my life on the line?
I typically avoid writing about controversial topics in this newspaper and on my blog because I don’t want to offend anyone.
I’d rather not become the target of criticism, much less that of a terrorist organization, although I know that complacency and cowardliness have never led to the world becoming a better place.
Who cares what happens in Pakistan, some might wonder. What does that have to do with me?
Anytime a person takes a stand for human rights, it’s our business. Such people bring light and liberty to the world.
Those of us who sit back in relative comfort and safety and write about the ills of the world owe them a great debt.
So do our readers.