On being brave

All I have been able to think about since yesterday is the girl whose story has caught wildfire, Malala Yousufzai. The fourteen-year-old activist, who received Pakistan’s highest civilian honor for her work promoting girls’ education in the Swat Valley, was shot yesterday by the Taliban in the head and neck. They “claimed responsibility”, as if, in the words of my father, they were proud. There are several ways to react to this news, and a myriad of issues that arise as a result of its implications-but to start with, let’s recognize there are either positive or negative actions. It is encouraging to me that my generation is choosing to react, even just by recognizing that this event occurred. We are growing into global citizens by sending our thoughts to this girl and her family, praying for her recovery. Often, I feel that we, as in my peers and I (18-30 bracket) don’t comment on important issues because we fear being judged or think that we don’t know enough about the subject, and feign indifference. I know, however, that this is not the case. We’re a hell of a lot smarter than our occasional “likes” of certain links and comments on facebook and twitter show, but I rarely have actual discourse with my peers about the issues that I feel are important. I know that the this is a two-way cycle, and my silence and assumptions (based on previous experience of being met with indifference) only feed that cycle. What kind of a world do we live in if we don’t feel compelled to act, speak, or even think, when faced with important change? We are renouncing ownership in this world, and our place in it, through our indifference. We can curse those responsible for atrocities, complain that there isn’t enough attention given to them, or we can call attention to what we know and feel to be meaningful. I am encouraged that we, as a generation, as a nation, are stirred and enthralled by this girl, and I am encouraged by her bravery and hard work. In addition to attending school and being an activist in her own community of the Swat Valley, she also writes blog entries for the BBC. In them, she describes her day to day experiences and the fear of being followed and hunted down by the Taliban:

  • “I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.”
  • “On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”
  • “This time round, the girls were not too excited about vacations because they knew if the Taleban implemented their edict they would not be able to come to school again. Some girls were optimistic that the schools would reopen in February but others said that their parents had decided to shift from Swat and go to other cities for the sake of their education.”

Since I am human, I can’t help but to think about the not-so-obvious negative implications. Does it really take the potentially fatal shooting of a young girl for this world to take notice of the good that is being accomplished in regions of the world portrayed as hopeless and lawless? Sure, Mukhtar Mai gained international recognition when she took up a case against the men who gang-raped her, but how many young adults know her name? Or how about Gulalai Ismail, a young woman who founded the nonprofit Aware Girls in Peshawar who also works despite constant threats against her life (and who also started her work at about the same age as Yousufzai)? There is a long, hard road for human rights defenders in conflict-ridden areas such as Pakistan, with political, social, and economic obstacles that could have their own encyclopedias to detail their history. To progress, however, we must think positively, and any recognition of these and other activists’ work is progress. From there, support, and maybe even guidance to empower this kind of activism to succeed on an institutional level can grow. Back to us, sitting in our homes, schools, and offices (not realizing we’re privileged to sit there peacefully, right?). These women are impressive on their own, but their work means nothing if we don’t take an active role in our own society. If they can accomplish their goals as well as achieve recognition in the face of so much adversity, we can at least be conscious citizens. Read a newspaper (or blog, news website, etc., if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Have discussions. Talk about a new trend that’s been bothering you. Engage with your community and learn about what issues affect it, then talk to your elected officials if you’re feeling brave. If a little girl can stand up the Taliban, surely we can start to open up to each other. Let’s not leave it up to whoever may or may not be in power to decide our fate. We all know how well that ends. But first, I encourage any readers, especially my peers, to cease to classify such women as victims, and recognize them as heroes. We owe Malala Yousufzai at least that much.




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