In light of the thirtieth anniversary of “Banned Books Week,” which Mark Tapson wrote about nicely here, I thought I’d share this photo. In the United States, we are lucky to be able to celebrate an occasion like “Banned Books Week.” In other parts of the world, the simple act of reading a book can get you thrown in jail. In Pakistan, for a young woman like fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai to read a book, and for her to encourage other young women to do the same and become educated, got her a bullet in the head on her way home from school. Thankfully, Malala survived the assassination attempt by the Taliban and is in stable condition.
A few days after the Taliban tried to kill Malala for promoting education rights for girls, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union for contributing “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Not only was the Norwegian selection committee’s decision obviously motivated by political correctness, it also set a low bar for our definition of “peace” and the pursuit of it. Why are we rewarding Europe for not going to war, for not behaving in an uncivilized and savage manner? Would we reward children for not getting into fights at school? No, we reward people and organizations for doing good in the world.
When the news broke internationally that Malala had been nearly killed by religious extremists on October 9 for doing something that is fundamentally good–promoting girl’s rights and standing up to the warmongering Taliban–the committee should have pulled the prize from the EU before it was announced on October 12, and given it to the teenaged girl. At this point, they could take the prize back from the EU and give it to Malala, but I’m not holding my breath.
Angelina Jolie, a UN ambassador, suggests awarding the prize to Malala sometime in the future in this wonderful piece that appeared in The Daily Beast yesterday:
The following morning, the news showed pictures of children across Pakistan holding up Malala’s picture at vigils and demonstrations, and praying in schools. My son worried that girls were going to be shot for standing up for Malala. I told him that they were aware of the danger, but publicly supporting her reflects how much Malala means to them. Malala’s courage reminded all Pakistanis how important an education is. Her bravery inspired their own.
Still trying to understand, my children asked, “Why did those men think they needed to kill Malala?” I answered, “because an education is a powerful thing.”
The shots fired on Malala struck the heart of the nation, and as the Taliban refuse to back down, so too do the people of Pakistan. This violent and hateful act seems to have accomplished the opposite of its intent, as Pakistanis rally to embrace Malala’s principles and reject the tyranny of fear. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said “let this be a lesson.” Yes. Let this be a lesson—that an education is a basic human right, a right that Pakistan’s daughters will not be denied.
As girls across Pakistan stand up to say “I am Malala,” they do not stand alone. Mothers and teachers around the world are telling their children and students about Malala, and encouraging them to be a part of her movement for girls’ education. Across Pakistan, a national movement has emerged to rebuild the schools and recommit to educate all children, including girls. This terrible event marks the beginning of a necessary revolution in girls’ education.
Malala is proof that it only takes the voice of one brave person to inspire countless men, women, and children. In classrooms and at kitchen tables around the world, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters are praying for Malala’s swift recovery and committing themselves to carry her torch. As the Nobel Committee meets to determine the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, I imagine brave Malala will be given serious consideration.
I think Jolie makes great points, but wouldn’t it have been far more powerful for the Nobel committee to strike while the iron was hot by giving the prize to Malala this year? Not only would doing so have empowered girls like Malala across the world, but it would have further ostracized and dealt a moral blow to the Taliban, which has claimed that it will finish its job and kill Malala.