According to Jimi Hendrix, “When the power of LOVE overcomes the love of POWER, the world will know PEACE.” – such humble words underpinning a compelling, hopeful message. Words, no matter how simple, can speak volumes. Words can inspire. Words can be the catalyst for change.
This brings me to the story of Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year old Pakistani girl, described as a peace activist, who was shot in the head by Taliban extremists, merely for fighting for what should be every child’s right – to be educated.
Since 2007, Malala’s hometown of Swat has been infiltrated by the Taliban regime, which has set about imposing their will on residents through the use of fear and intimidation1. Under Taliban rule, “men have been forced to grow beards, opponents of their beliefs are beheaded and women are prevented from going to the market”2. Furthermore, “schools have been blown up, the majority of which are for girls”3, as “girls should be kept at home and barred from education”4 based on Taliban teachings.
At the age of 11, Malala, “whose name means grief stricken”5, began a campaign to expose these atrocities through “a blog for the BBC’s Urdu service website under the pseudonym Gul Makai (or ‘face like a flower’)”6. Malala championed the importance of education for girls and was a strong advocate for children’s rights. “Recently she had spoken of her desire to set up her own political party and a vocational institute for marginalised girls in her area”7.
Malala’s crusade was even recognised by then prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, “who awarded her the country’s first National Peace Award and a reward of about $US5300 after she missed out on winning the International Children’s Peace Prize for which she was nominated in 2011”8.
Sadly, her views were considered as an act of defiance “and earned her the enmity of Taliban leaders”9. Consequently, Malala and her family were targeted by Taliban militants and threatened for her outspokenness, ultimately resulting in her shooting.
Committing this act of violence on an innocent child is nothing short of barbaric. In fact, using such savagery against a young girl is cowardly; a young girl who was merely promoting a simple message of hope and equality. I struggle to understand countries, cultures or traditions who continue to suppress women and their right to equality. I am neither a Muslim nor an expert on the Islamic religion or its principles. However, as stated by clerics from the Sunni Ittehad Council, “Islam doesn’t prohibit women from getting an education”10. The attempt on Malala’s life was declared “un-Islamic and the individuals responsible for this attack transgressed the Islamic Hudood [doctrines]”11.
Furthermore, many Muslims have condemned this horrific incident. “Hundreds of Pakistani women rallied together in Karachi in support of Malala, whose struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls denied an education by Islamist militants”12.
Malala is a symbol of courage, an icon of peace. It takes strength to stand up and fight for one’s beliefs, especially under cultures where women are suppressed and forced into subjugation by men. Her bold determination in exposing “the scourge of terrorism the Taliban regime has conducted towards her community”13, particularly to women, further exemplifies her bravery. Despite the risk to her life, Malala was a voice for young women and her plight has captivated the attention of politicians and celebrities alike including Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Madonna and Angelina Jolie.
Malala’s push for girls’ education was both compelling and inspiring. Education, which we take for granted in the western world, is all the more vital in developing nations, where poverty is rampant. Knowledge is power. Educating men and women is the basic foundation to help individuals become employable, self-sustaining and generate an income to provide for families, to build a better life for future generations as well as supporting the wider community.
The fact is “32 million girls in Pakistan are not going to school”14. One can only hope that Malala’s message, and the violence inflicted upon her, can act as a catalyst for change that “spurs the Pakistan nation to come together and fight this mind set which attacked an innocent harmless girl”15. The assault against Malala is a call to action. Action creates momentum and this incident can be a turning point that “strengthens the resolve of the Pakistan military to undertake a long-awaited offensive against Taliban reign”16.
As quoted by Edmund Burke, “All that is required for evil to flourish in this world is for good men to do nothing”. The Taliban cannot prevent all independent voices or advocates of peace and equality through the force of bullets17. To ensure that Malala’s struggle and suffering isn’t in vain the Pakistan people need to come together in solidarity. People Power is at its strongest when people stand in unity to achieve a single goal.
It takes one person to turn a dream into reality. It takes one person to start a movement for change; it takes a village to make it happen.
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Citations on Request