It’s been a year since the world woke to the news of a 14 year-old Pakistani girl on the brink of death after being shot in the head and neck by a Taliban assassin. A swarm of tweets and Facebook updates berated the Taliban for their unfathomable cruelty. Pakistanis far and wide were astonished that a little girl was capable of intimidating the throng of militants that has aggravated the country for years. Miraculously Malala Yousafzai recovered and has grown into an intelligent, fearless, and inspiring role model. Two years after her ordeal, Yousafzai addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly on July 12th, 2013 and spoke with passion about the need to educate all children for the betterment of society. Being from Pakistan, I am proud to have Yousafzai representing my country. She is emerging from her nightmare unfazed and stronger.
Yousafzai drew necessary attention to the difficulties of life under Taliban rule in the Swat Valley, where girls’ schools were closed in her town of Mingora. Militants roamed freely in the valley, blasting schools and beheading security forces. Yousafzai rightfully denounced the brutal insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and more than 4,000 soldiers in the area. She reacted by publishing anonymous blog posts on the BBC Urdu website, shedding light on the draconian regulations that limited her freedom. She also made several appearances on television talk shows and eventually appeared in an international documentary. Yousafzai refused to let the Taliban silence her, which is why bullets were her enemy’s only option. Her father, a prominent school administrator, also received death threats.
Ironically, because they perceive the young girl as such a threat, Yousafzai actually draws attention to the Taliban’s waning grasp on her society.
Every society comes with its social media pests, and I see that Pakistan is home to several. While one end of the spectrum ardently supports Yousafzai and her cause for equal education of boys and girls, another portion devises conspiracy theories. Questions are asked as to why the West only cares about one girl while thousands of children are killed in drone attacks. Some also write Twitter posts steeped in rage about how Yousafzai portrays Pakistan in a negative light. They claim the young girl is in cahoots with the C.I.A. Some critics have also stretched the truth to a point of oblivion by insinuating that Yousafzai is deliberately creating a ruckus for financial gains. While Pakistan is culturally rich and overflowing with talent, clearly many are marred with insecurities. To them, nothing is more painful than watching another individual, especially a girl, find great success in life.
"[The extremists] are afraid of books and pens," Yousafzai asserted in her UN speech. "The power of education frightens them."
How can anyone with a heart watch this girl bleeding on a hospital bed and imply that she doesn’t deserve to be praised or recognized for her bravery? How can anyone with half a mind believe that a leading intelligence organization would align itself with a young girl from the outskirts of Pakistan, especially one who has barely made it through school? It is true that drone attacks have unjustly caused severe and inexcusable casualties. Nevertheless, Yousafzai herself nearly suffered the same fate as many of her peers in drone attacks, school bombings, and roadside blasts. At a recent visit to the White House, the activist challenged President Barack Obama about the use of drones in her home country.
And yet Yousafzai was specifically targeted by the Taliban. An assassination attempt was made on a child, and that abysmal reality is why Yousafzai deserves our utmost support, respect, and guidance. Yousafzai is not only a gracious activist, but also a symbol of progress. She debunks the idea that most Pakistanis are fervent supporters of the Taliban’s dogmatic ideologies. She actually positions Pakistan as a country with extraordinary potential that remains hampered by rampant militant activity.
Despite outlandish rhetoric, she is not maligning Pakistan’s geopolitical standing. In fact, the Taliban themselves are doing a marvelous job at dragging the country’s reputation through the mud. "The terrorists are mis-using the name of Islam in Pashtun society for their own personal benefits," Yousafzai declares.
For now, Yousafzai remains unstoppable. Though she lives in exile in Birmingham, England, she recently released her autobiography, has established a new charity to expand her global campaign for education, and continues to deride the Taliban for misrepresenting the name of Islam.
Yousafzai has evidently grown up with many trials and tribulations. School buildings crumbled around her, her father’s life was at stake, and her home turned into a battlefield overnight. Her dreams are innocent. Suggesting that she’s allowing herself to be used as a political ploy is ludicrous.
Many women are running thriving businesses in Pakistan. I am proud to see the level of independence they exhibit in factories, marketing enterprises, nonprofit programs, retail ventures, academic institutions, culinary endeavors, and more. Gender bias, however, remains a huge issue in Pakistan. A majority of the male population is still adjusting to accomplished women. The loosening grip on power in both economics and politics is the main reason so much misogynistic criticism is lobbied against Yousafzai.
The extremists, claims Yousafzai, are afraid of women. "The power of women frightens them."
In Pakistan it’s time for the jealous, ignorant, and angry to man up and support Yousafzai’s egalitarian agenda.
Children's Rights, Education, Islam, Pakistan, Women's Rights