Saturday, October 12, 2013

Our Obligation to Malala

It's hard to express how much I admire Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who has championed the cause of education for girls in her homeland, in defiance of Taliban threats and in spite of an assassination attempt that left her badly wounded.

Indeed, I wish that she had won the Nobel Peace Prize that went to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons a few days ago. As I have written elsewhere, awarding the prize to institutions and celebrities does not inspire the world the way awarding it to frontline heroes does. And, without a doubt, Malala is a hero and an inspiration, deserving of the same honor that has been bestowed on Suu Kyi and King and Mandela and Schweitzer.

Her intelligence, poise, eloquence and bravery are a marvel to behold. It is hard to believe that a sixteen-year-old could embody these qualities so fully. My guess is that this is why we are inclined to forget that Malala is indeed a teenage girl, who, by all rights, should have a long life ahead of her to enjoy.

It is for this reason that I found portions of the interview that Malala gave to PBS NewsHour's Margaret Warner yesterday disturbing. In it Malala says,
"And I think that I must not be afraid of death. First, I might have been before this attack, but now if even they threaten me, I'm not afraid of any threat. I have seen death already. So now I'm more powerful. Now I'm more courageous. And I will continue my campaign."
As noble as these statements are, coming from a sixteen-year-old, they send a chill up my spine. This kind of fearlessness on the part of young people is too often exploited in this world. It helps fill the ranks in our armies and is put to dastardly use by elders who dispatch their sons and daughters on missions of self-destruction.

Although it would be unquestionably a loss to "the cause," I ardently hope that those responsible for Malala's welfare will take her out of the limelight. She deserves the opportunity, in spite of her bold and heartfelt declarations, to drink from life's cup fully. Only then should she reconsider whether to fear death.

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