Today, I want to tell you about the bravest girl in the world. She doesn't fight demons or slay dragons. Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai fights for ideas like freedom and education. She doesn't hate school like many American kids; she fought to be allowed to go to school. For years, the Taliban controlled her village of Swat Valley in Pakistan and strictly forbade girls from attending school... under penalty of death.
|Malala Yousufzai, in 2009, aged 11: "I don't mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I'm afraid of no one."|
When the Taliban was routed from the region in 2009 by a major military operation, Malala was able to reveal her true identity as the blogger who had told the world about the Taliban's imposition of harsh Islamic law on her village, as seen through a child's eyes. A Dutch organization named her as an International Children’s Peace Prize finalist for "her bravery in standing up for girls’ education rights amid rising fundamentalism when few others in Pakistan would do so." The girl whose blog promoted literacy and peace was honored by the Pakistani government with a national peace prize.
When she began her diary, Malala wanted to go to school to become a doctor; three years later, she had changed her mind. She now wants to become a politician when she grows up, to help lead her people into a better society.
Yesterday, Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus. They asked which girl was Malala Yousafzai. The students pointed her out. They watched, as a gunman aimed his pistol at her head and fired.
Across Pakistan, school children are holding prayer vigils for Malala, who at this moment lies in critical condition. Many Pakistanis, including political leaders, have expressed outrage over the assassination attempt on the ninth grader, but their religious leaders are silent. Clerics seldom criticize such attacks for fear of alienating their conservative followers or provoking reprisal from the Taliban. Citing Malala's words, a Taliban spokesman said, "She considers President Obama as her ideal leader. Malala is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity.” He added, chillingly, if she survived, the Taliban would try to kill her again.
Malala Yousafzai knew this was her reality, the world she lived in, the world in which she was growing up, and the childhood that would shape her life. Yet, she spoke out -- bravely, loudly, and clearly. This is the world around you. There are things happening in places you've never heard of, from the Congo and Haiti, to Pakistan. Unimaginable things. Freedom isn't free; it's earned -- over and over again. This 14-year-old girl was lauded for her bravery in standing up for the right of girls to receive an education, amid rising fundamentalism, when few Pakistani adults would do so; as a result, the Taliban shot her on her school bus to send a clear message of intimidation. But we can never allow ourselves to be intimidated. Speaking out may cause you to become alienated, lose some friends, or possibly your life. But remaining silent in the face of evil leads to worse consequences. As Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." So speak up when you see something wrong. Speak loudly and clearly. Post it. Share it. Spread the word. That's why I write blogs like this one. First, you must inform people before you can rally them to act. Malala Yousafzai is a model for us all.
UPDATE #1: Malala remains in intensive care at a military hospital in Peshawar, recovering from surgery to remove a bullet lodged near her shoulder, where it had moved after entering her head. Doctors describe her condition as critical and the next 48 hours as crucial. Although preparations were made to fly her abroad, a military source reported she was unfit to travel.
"In attacking Malala, the terrorist has failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope who vindicates the great sacrifices that the people of Swat and the nation gave, for wresting the valley from the scourge of terrorism," Pakistan's top military officer, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said.
President Barack Obama called the attack as "barbaric" and offered air ambulance services. White House press secretary Jay Carney said U.S. forces stand ready to offer transport and treatment to Malala Yousafzai.
More news, photos, and video.
UPDATE #2: Malala was flown to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. On October 19, her doctors said she can now stand for the first time since the attack and is communicating by writing. A tube in her trachea prevents her from speaking, at present. She wanted the photo below to be published. She is aware of the worldwide attention her shooting has received and wanted to thank people for their support.
The bullet did not penetrate her skull. Instead, it entered her head near her left eyebrow, then traveled under the skin surface down the side of her head and neck. Shock waves from the bullet shattered a bone in her skull, and fragments were driven into her brain. She will need reconstructive surgery to repair the damaged part of her skull and possibly her jaw.
Her doctor said, "She seems to be able to understand; she has some memory.... She's able to stand. She's got motor control, so she's able to write."
The Taliban still insists it will kill Malala. They fear a 14-year-old girl because she dares to speak out and write. In contrast, Malala, the bravest girl in the world, continues to write, even from her hospital bed, unintimidated by these murderous scum.
Now, I will warn the Taliban: If you are successful in your promise to kill Malala, the civilized world -- from which you have removed yourselves by this and previous actions -- will not rest until the Taliban itself is eradicated from the face of the Earth. You have not silenced the truth; you have unleashed it.