Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”
She is Malala Yousafzai, whose life was forever changed at age 15 by a Taliban bullet. No one really believed the Taliban would target a teenaged school girl with a passion for education reform but on October 9, 2012, two Taliban assassins climbed onto her school bus, called her by name and shot her in the head.
They were ordered to kill her. Malala was targeted by the Pakistani Taliban because she speaks out for the rights of all girls to become educated. After the shooting, a Taliban spokesman said his organization considers Malala’s crusade for education rights an obscenity and a disgrace. The Taliban have issued a fatwa (pronouncement of death) against her and her father.
The bullet was fired at close range. It pierced the skin just behind her left eye, traveled along the exterior of her skull, nicked her jawbone, went through her neck and lodged in the muscle above her left shoulder blade.
She was in critical condition; flown to a military hospital in Peshawar where she was placed in a medically induced coma. Surgeons removed a portion of her skull to treat the swelling in her brain and transferred her to Birmingham, England where her treatment continued. She endured multiple surgeries including repair of a facial nerve to fix the paralyzed left side of her face. Her recovery took six months.
The Voice of Courage
But they did not kill her and they did not silence her. The shooting resulted in a massive outpouring of support which continued throughout her recovery. In 2013 she celebrated her 16th birthday by giving a speech at the United Nations, and on October 10, 2014, Malala became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She closed out 2014 by being named runner up (Barack Obama was first) for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
Like Madonna and Cher, Malala is recognized around the world by her first name. She has become the world’s youngest and most admired children’s rights advocate, all the more powerful because she is a child herself. She lends her voice to supporting and securing Pakistani girls’ access to education, and broadened the focus to include issues of health and safety reform and the rights of all women in the developing world.
The attack on Malala exposed an army unable to provide security for its citizens and the appalling quality of education in Pakistan. The Taliban is dedicated to the brutal repression of women who are forbidden to work or attend school. Taliban religious police patrol the streets, beating women who do not comply and dare to venture out alone, are not dressed properly or who laugh out loud. They close and burn schools if they believe young girls are studying there.
Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. She loves learning, and attended a school that her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, founded. When the Taliban began attacking girls’ schools Malala gave a speech in Peshawar, Pakistan, titled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” She was 11 years old.
At the age of 11, to protest what was happening in her homeland, Malala began to write about her experiences, producing a blog for the BBC’s Urdu-language service. In order to hide her identity, she used the name Gul Makai. She described wearing plain clothes, not uniforms, so that no one would know she was attending school and wrote about how she and other girls “hid our books under our shawls.”
But in December 2009, Malala, whose identity as the BBC blogger had been something of an open secret, was publicly identified by her father, because he was proud of her accomplishments. The leader of the Swat Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, decided to silence Malala and sent two men to kill her.
Courage. It’s a desirable quality and an empowering way to be. Courage is defined as the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, confidence, and resolution; bravery. When I think of Malala this definition falls a bit short for me. I don’t dispute it, but the words do not do justice to this amazing young woman who has become the face of courage.
The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition. Courage originally meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” This is Malala. She speaks with her heart, and hers is the face of courage.
Malala’s courage reminds me of another young woman named Anne Frank, who inspired people with words from the diary she wrote hiding in the annex of her Amsterdam apartment. Anne’s words endure because of her extraordinary spirit and her ability to tell her story of faith and hope in the face of the extreme hatred her family endured.
In her diary Anne wrote “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Malala is not waiting. She lends her voice and her passion to this cause every single day.
In an interview with CNN she said:
“I have the right of education, I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to the market. I have the right to speak up.”
These are everyday things, taken for granted in the western world, yet beyond reach for girls like Malala.
This is what courage looks and sounds like. Keep speaking Malala, the world needs your voice.