Here is a video link to an address of astounding power, maturity, dignity and pure inspiration, from Malala Yousafzai, the courageous Pakistani teenager who was shot point blank in the head by the Taliban last year for advocating education for girls. But she survived, enduring long hospitalizations and reconstructive operations in Pakistan and Great Britain, where she now lives with her family. She celebrated her 16th birthday on July 12th in a stellar way— by giving this extraordinary address at the UN Youth Assembly to dignitaries and over 500 youth activist from around the world, calling for universal education as a key to a better future.
Gordon Brown, the U.N.’s special envoy for education, helped bring her to New York for this address. She stood there, diminutive, calm and strong, wearing a shawl once owned by Benazir Bhutto, and thanked all the thousands who sent love and good wishes, her doctors, nurses and staff, and all those who have supported her recovery and ongoing advocacy for equality and education.
She stated that “Malala Day is not my day…” but that it is a day for every woman, every girl and boy who have raised their voices for their rights. “Here I stand, one girl among many….They (the terrorists) thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And out of the silence came thousands of voices….nothing has changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
She said that the extremists/terrorists are frightened of ‘books and pens’ , i.e. the power of education and the written words—and that education for every child would be a key factor in building more peaceful, productive nations. She said they are also afraid of women—afraid of the power of women’s voices, raised for their rights. She was blunt and direct in her statement that the Taliban and other extremists, many of them who cannot even read or write, have twisted Islam “for their own personal gain.” They are afraid, she said, of change, of the equality that (we) would bring into schools—and society. “They think that God is a tiny, conservative being who sent guns to them, because of education (for girls)”.
She called for every girl and boy, every woman and man to raise their voices, to “be brave, and embrace the strength within themselves,” to advance ‘the legacy of change’ she saw possible. And she also called for the powerful leaders of nations to demand free, compulsory education for each nation’s young—the best antidote to poverty, ignorance, injustice—and terrorism & violence.
Malala stated that she was ‘not against anyone’, that even if she had a gun, and the Talib who shot her stood in front of her—she would not shoot him. She said that her inspiration for nonviolent advocacy, for peace and forgiveness came from the teachings of Mohammed, the Prophet of Mercy, and too, from Christ and Buddha, as well as Gandhi, Mother Theresa and other great souls. And, she said, that inspiration came from her Mother and her Father, who were there in the UN Assembly audience. She stated firmly that she does not want revenge, only that the children of the Taliban be able to go to school along with all other girls and boys in the world. Pashtuns (in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan) want education for their children, she said; they are very tired of these wars. “What my soul is telling me—be peaceful, and love everyone.”
She’s been campaigning (via a high-profile BBC-broadcast radio diary) since she was 11 years old.. She’s now going to school in Britain where she & her family moved for her medical treatment. She’s clearly a visionary young leader with a lioness heart of courage and clear, balanced voice for truth and equality in the face of brute terrorism, a spiritual descendant of Ghandhi, Simone Weil, Mother Theresa & Joan of Arc, among others. She is writing a memoir, and she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
And news just in: A famous documentarian is now making a film about her life and work—Davis Guggenheim, who won a 2007 Academy Award for “An Inconvenient Truth”, about Al Gore and Global Warming, and also created the film “Waiting for Superman”. Mr. Guggenheim, who focuses on education, has teamed up with two major Hollywood producers, who have previously made a film based on “The Kite Runner”, a novel by Khaled Hosseini about the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Malala concluded her address with “Let us raise our weapon of knowledge…and shield ourselves with unity and togetherness … One child, one book , one pen…can change the world. Education first.”
Sounds to us like a good draft of an eventual Nobel acceptance speech…
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Photograph: Nancy Siesel//Demotix/Corbis
Tay Shakur, The CONNECT Team