One year ago today, a 15 year old Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai was shot in the face at point-blank range on her way to school by a member of the Taliban.
That was probably the first time you heard about Malala.
But rest assured, it won’t be the last.
Although she had been actively fighting for the right to education for girls since age 12, it was only after surviving an attempted assassination that Malala soared to international stardom.
In the past year, she has showed no signs of backing down to her aggressors. Urging the world’s attention to focus on girls’ education, Malala has addressed the United Nations (and countless other audiences), co-authored her autobiography (just released yesterday), and even appeared on Jon Stewart last night, confirming just how popular-culture she has become.
And as of this Friday, she might just be the youngest person to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize.
There’s certainly no question of Malala’s bravery and conviction in the face of life-threatening adversity. But are these the qualities that the award is meant to recognize? From the will of Alfred Nobel, we read his intentions for this prestigious accolade as follows:
“…the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
In some ways it sounds exactly like Malala. She’s galvanizing global leadership around an issue of utmost importance, girls education, and creating fraternity and sorority between and within nations in solidarity for this cause.
Yet in other ways, the more she achieves on a global level, the more she is seen to be aggravating the ‘standing army’ that is the Taliban, who have already started to threaten her again in advance of Friday’s announcement. As WashPost reports, “a top Taliban spokesman said the group will continue to look for opportunities to harm the 16-year-old girl so long as she remains an outspoken critic of efforts to impose strict Islamic law in Pakistan.” Malala’s efforts at cultivating peace for the world are resulting in people wanting to do more violent harm, both to her and the democratic way of life cherished by many people on the planet.
So does this mean Malala doesn’t quite qualify for a Nobel?
Or is this exactly what peace-making necessarily looks like?
We believe that Malala is one of the most powerful ambassadors of our time, and not only for the obvious reason that she had shaken the world awake to the injustice of gender oppression happening in her corner of the globe. The flip-side of ambassadorship, and the challenge Malala now faces, is not only showing “where you’re from” with the world, but returning back to where you’re from, and showing them what else the world has to offer.
This second part can be the most difficult, and we’ve published many stories about this on EA: the transformative experiences or deeply personal connections to a place, culture, or cause, that seem impossible to translate it back into a language our home community will understand. In Malala’s case especially, it’s unlikely that changing the Taliban’s political opinions is an option as she advances the case for girls’ education globally.
But we have full confidence Malala, and the many people she has galvanized to action so far, will find new, creative, and effective ways to promote peace in the years ahead. For example, it might not be an ‘abolition’ of the Taliban, but it might include preventing young people from ever being susceptible to extremism in the first place.
We will be rooting for her and all she represents on Friday, and she is an ambassador of peace in our eyes no matter if she wins the award or not this year. We believe her work is only getting started. And we know it will take the work of “everyday” Pakistani and Muslim girls and women like Malala, as well as their supportive male counterparts, to transform her calls to end gender oppression into a new global reality of equality.