We all want the world to be a better place, yet few of us would be willing put our lives on the line. But sometimes there is no choice. Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani school girl, was forced to face the ramifications of her controversial beliefs in a ways most of us will never have to.
In October 2012, Malala’s school bus was stopped en route by the Taliban. An armed soldier boarded, aimed his gun at Malala, and shot her three times. One bullet went through her head. Her body slumped against her good friend, entirely unconscious to screams rising around her.
This was no accident. Malala was directly targeted because she was seen as a political threat. The Taliban wanted to take her out.
Her crime? She was a girl. And she wanted to go to school.
Why am I writing about a Pakistani activist on a homesteading blog?
Because Malala’s story has caught hold of me and will not let go. Because she illustrates the power one voice, one life, can have resisting the world. Because of her courage to risk everything, even her life, to fight for the right for education for herself and her schoolmates. Malala’s story deserves to be told.
I came across Malala’s book several months ago and was struck by the powerful message she conveyed. Written with leading foreign correspondent Christina Lamb, I am Malala documents Yousafzai’s early life as an educational activist, the events that led to her assassination attempt, and the honor of her becoming the world’s youngest recipient of the Noble Peace Prize.
It’s been an enormous success. Reviewed as “a voice that continues to meet the assassins challenge” and “a memoir that every American woman should read”, Malala, through her book, has become an international face of rebellion against corrupt governmental regimes.
All because she wanted to go to school.
From an early age, Malala’s life revolved around school. Her father was an ardent school teacher that overcame countless obstacles to found a school from the ground up. As a toddler, Malala had the run of this school and often sat through classes which older children. Her passion for education grew as she aged, and she consistently received the top marks in her classes.
Then, the resurgence of the Taliban after 9/11 changed the lives of girls in her community dramatically. Girls were required to wear burkas, were restricted from moving freely in public, and were eventually banned from attending school at all. School after school was blown apart as a message to dissenters and stories began to circulate of stubborn girls being tortured, even murdered for resisting the cultural police.
But Malala would not be silenced. At the encouragement of her father, she began to go public with her passion for female education, making speeches on the radio and appearing on tv news reports.
Most notably, she began to keep an online journal for BCC under the pen name Gul Makai about the effect being banned from attending school was having on her life. The enormous popularity of this writing (which she did at 11 years old!) helped Malala understand that ‘the pen and words can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters’.
She became a target. Her mother begged her to stay in the house; her friends wanted her to have body guards. But Malala never stopped talking about what she believed.
The Taliban’s best attempts to silence her ended in failure. Malala survived her assassination attempt and went on to make a full recovery in Britain. She is more passionate than ever about allowing girls around the world to attend school, and in 2014 she was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for her efforts. Rather than silencing her, the Taliban has given her a global platform.
Let us all be more like Malala. Let us speak out against injustice; be willing to take risks for the hope of a better future. Let us take inspiration from the young teenager that refused to be frightened of the Powers over her, and through her defiance changed the world.
In closing, a poem beloved by Malala’s father, written by Martin Niemoller, a citizen of Nazi Germany.
First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Let us not be silent about the wrongs we see.