Malala Yousafzai: A Teen Leader, A World Beacon

In Islamabad, Pakistan, Taliban extremists shot 14-year old Malala Yousafzai because she was an effective leader, uniting people for education rights for girls. (See Washington Post article).

The Post quoted an editorial in the News: “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.”

Many are standing up to declare this a crime and a tragedy: Pakistan’s general citizens and intellectual communities crying out, the provincial administration offering rewards for information leading to the capture of her attacker, and even the conservative military leaders decrying the attack. And many are using the incident to draw a clear line between the beliefs and practices of Islam and the extreme beliefs and terrorism of the Taliban.

In terms of leadership, the Taliban is all about creating order through conformity, a clear contrast with the more democratic visions possible in Islam. All over the world, these contrasts between conservative and progressive sects of Judaism and Christianity parallel the  struggle, usually without the physical violence of the Taliban’s bloody history.

This order comes at the expense of personal freedom and education, especially for women. Malala Yousafzai, attacked for “promoting secularism” (according to the Taliban), will be transferred to England for long-term care, with Pakistan paying the bill, according to the BBC. Although her condition is stabilized, she is still on a ventilator.

Yousafzai has been an activist since she was 11, when she started writing a diary for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban. In her diary, she wrote:

“SATURDAY 3 JANUARY 2009: I AM AFRAID

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.

Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.

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. ”

Her leadership, her gift to us: the courage to tell her story and to stand up for the rights of girls against a culture that kills dissenters. She has been visible internationally, not only in the BBC blog, but through a documentary, in interviews, and as chairperson of the District Child Assembly Swat. She won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize, and has been nominated by Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

In a video interview, she said, “We should say no to wrong; we must have the confidence to say that this thing is going wrong, and we must raise our voice.”

The truth is a powerful force for change; against violent repression, speaking the truth is also dangerous. What courage she has — may it serve her healing as she has served her community and the world through her leadership.

11 comments

  1. […] have written many posts on the brave, articulate education activist, teenager Malala Yousefzai. Farima’s story has a less happy ending, despite her unexpected […]

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  2. […] As a leader, Yousafzai consistently demonstrates the clarity, risk-taking and visionary goal-setting of a transformational presence. This video shows it even more, with her calm message, simple words and continuing dedication. […]

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  3. […] and her multimillion dollar career as an athelete, including her best-selling co-written book, and Yousafzai. Both young women have a lot to say about perseverence and the power of girls to achieve important […]

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  4. […] her age, she displays the courage to stand, not only as herself, but as a representative of all girls hungry …. This kind of leadership is easy to market, because her courage, her ability to speak for herself […]

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  5. […] — because of her courageous leadership. She says, "Because I love my country, I am doing this. If women are not free, society is not free." Tags: collective, courage, driving, laughter, lead, leader, leadership, leading, Manal-al-Sharif, […]

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  6. […] “European lawmakers awarded their top human rights prize, [a 50,000-euro ($65,000) award,] to Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who last year survived a Taliban assassination attempt because of her outspoken support for […]

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  7. […] Yousafzai proves herself to be a leader with an infectious vision, more than a role model for courage to stand against violence. She gives developed nations a look at another way to lead, pricking our conscience and our […]

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  8. […] the negotiations of democratic processes (in public and private spaces), women's roles must change. Malala Yousafzai's powerful, seemingly universal presence is only one of the leadership roles women can take — but […]

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  9. […] courageous leadership, with activists risking their lives, not just economic and social status.  Malala Yousafzai has become an international leader for universal education but at great cost. Most resistance means […]

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  10. […] who become celebrities, Yousafzai holds a powerful space for girls and women in the world.  She certainly inspires me. It’s leaders like Malala who help prevent the crab-bucket syndrome, the tendency for people […]

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  11. […] the Nobel Prize winning education activist who survived an assassination attempt and has become a world-wide icon for democracy, is only one of many young leaders fighting for girls’ right to learn. Muzoon Almellahan, a […]

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