BELFAST, Northern Ireland—While American cable TV news engaged in saturation coverage of the closing arguments and verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial, the BBC and Sky News carried an inspiring speech by Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head last October by the Taliban for advocating the education of girls.
On her birthday, Malala addressed in barely accented English a special youth gathering at the United Nations in New York. She wore a shawl that had belonged to the late Pakistani President Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated by Islamic extremists in 2007.
Only occasionally referring to notes, Malala, who now lives in Birmingham, England, where she received medical treatment following the attack, delivered a speech more compelling than those given by most diplomats and presidents who have spoken at the UN. “Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured,” she noted, “I am just one of them.” She said her injury and the killing and wounding of her friends had launched “thousands of voices.”
Sounding more mature than her years, Malala said, “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born.”
Invoking the nonviolent teachings of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela, Malala said she is not against anyone, rather she is for education for girls and boys, especially the children of the Taliban. She said, “I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.”
In a powerful indictment of extremism, Malala said, “The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them.”
She accused terrorists of “misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits.” While her claim “Islam is a religion of peace” is debatable, given how it is often practiced by many radicals who assert they are the true disciples of Muhammed, Malala’s voice needs to be multiplied by thousands, even millions if the Taliban and their terrorist brothers are to be isolated and defeated. The voices (and most importantly behavior) must come from within Islam, not outside of it.
Here are three recent examples of what Malala and her applauding UN audience face. Last week, Islamic extremists kidnapped and murdered a Coptic Christian in Egypt as part of a protest against the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi. It is the latest example of the growing persecution against Egyptian Christians.
The Middle East Media Research Institute reported that in a Friday sermon in Damascus, a Syrian preacher blamed Jews for the civil unrest throughout the Middle East.
In London, a funeral was held last week for Lee Rigby, a British soldier stabbed to death in May by a pair of alleged Islamic fanatics.
Malala, though courageous, faces a seemingly impossible task, but if one person can spark a revolution, perhaps one can spark a counter revolution with words like these: “Let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.”
Good luck, brave heart.