Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

Malala Yousafzai Opens Our Eyes to What Really Matters

Everyday, brave men and woman are tirelessly promoting democracy and basic human rights. In a country such as Pakistan, this heroic task comes with great risk. On Tuesday (10/9/12) Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl from Swat Pakistan, was attacked by the Taliban for her support of girls’ education.

This inconceivable act of extremism served as a wake up for conservative clerics, secular politicians, military leaders, media figures, and the general population. One media outlet stated “Malala Yousafzai is in critical condition today, and so is Pakistan… we are infected with the cancer of extremism, and unless it is cut out we will slide ever further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies.” Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the country’s top military leader, made sure he was the first national leader to visit Malala in the hospital. His rare public showing, served as a symbol of hope and told Pakistan, and the world, exactly where the power and future of his country lies. Kayani announced “Islam guarantees each individual — male or female — equal and inalienable rights to life, property and human dignity.” He also added that the attackers, “have no respect even for the golden words of the prophet . . . that ‘the one who is not kind to children, is not amongst us.’ ” Police have identified a suspect that they believe traveled from eastern Afghanistan.

Xavier William, a Christian who leads the nondenominational tolerance group Life for All in Pakistan said, “We feel that extremism is rising at an unchecked rate now.” We have seen several recent evils similar to the attack on Malala happening in Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Education said that over the past decade, 550 schools in 11 Taliban-plagued provinces have been forced to close their doors. In Kabul, enemies of female education poisoned a school, leaving 150 girls ill.

The United States has an obligation to help protect and honor the brave sacrifices that Malala and others have made. In order to create a better world, we must support Malalas’ aspirations to become a doctor and every young person’s right to dream, to learn, and to live the life they imagine for themselves by preventing the Taliban from spreading fear. Malala and her father are two prime examples of people who are ready to change things for the better, and refuse to leave their country behind. The United States must stand with people like that by continuing security assistance to Pakistan and moral leadership.

As last week’s Washington Post mentioned, the Obama administration is seeking negotiations in an attempt to settle the Afghan conflict. Part of the U.S. position would be to insist that the Taliban must abide by Afghanistan’s constitution. It is very unlikely that the Taliban will ever make this agreement, but if this were to happen, women’s rights in Pakistan would no longer be a big issue. These negotiations will never take place, mostly because a group that stands by their attempted murder of a 14-year-old girl can never be trusted.

I am hopeful that Malalas’ demonstration of patriotism will change the dynamics in Pakistan, but according to the Taliban spokesman, one of Malala’s worst sins was to “consider President Obama as her ideal leader.” (Los Angeles Times). The Taliban hates the United States and everything that we stand for. As Malala’s story makes it clear, people around the world aspire to build a country similar to our own, where decisions are made by the vote of the people, and not with the guns of extremists. The American Dream is based on opportunity for everyone who seeks it. Let’s hope that what Malala has accomplished will provide the people of Pakistan with some of the basic rights that we take for granted everyday.

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