In the culture wars of Pakistan, standing up to the Taliban is the essence of 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 martyrdom or exile.
This week, Aitzaz Hasan sacrificed his life to prevent a suicide bombing at his school in Hangu. Although young people are not the only people stepping up to be the leaders. But we pay special attention to these teen activists. What makes them so compelling as role models?
According to the Christian Science Monitor, “This courageous teenager attempted to battle death. What gave him this confidence? Outrage? Parenting? Faith? From the bloodletting terrorism in Pakistan are emerging uniquely inspiring and iconic individuals like Malala and now Aitzaz Hasan.”
The case underscores the daily threats and government incapacity to stem violence along sectarian lines, despite continued efforts to stabilize the country. The Christian Science Monitor reported recently about an effort to crack down on hate speech to curb intra-faith violence, which was up 71 percent in 2012 from the previous year. In December, the CSM notes, “32 groups representing the major Islamic sects in Pakistan signed on to a code of conduct that prohibits hate speech against other sects, restricts the use of mosque loudspeakers, and bans incendiary literature and graffiti.”
But, as Monitor correspondent Umar Farooq says, enforcement of the code is a challenge and intra-faith violence a daily threat: since the new year, a suicide bomber on Jan. 1 killed two Shia pilgrims on their way home from Iran; and two senior Sunni leaders were killed in Islamabad on Jan 3.
Many Pakistanis fed up with violence have channeled their energies into honoring Aitzaz. In today’s Nation in Pakistan, an editorial is dedicated to the boy:
Most of us have already surrendered to the Taliban, at least in our hearts because we believe that nothing can stop an attack from taking place, unless fortune is on our side. The precious few that are still fighting are dropping like flies,” the editorial notes. “How many more children have to sacrifice themselves before we get a reality check? For the sake of Aitzaz and all the countless children that have been taken before their time, somebody from the government needs to take a page out of Aitzaz’s book and resist terrorists till they can no longer harm Pakistan.”
There is a great deal of resistance against the Taliban in Pakistan. Local tribes organize resistance, the ongoing war has devastated the country. But because controlling women and children is the first priority of Taliban repression, women and children’s resistance is perhaps most remarkable, and most inspiring.
Malala Yousafzai has inspired critiques of US policies, new curriculum in public schools, and a new understanding of the challenges girls face all over the world in education. But she is not alone in the fight, as demonstrated by Aitziz Hasan and her school friends, also injured in the Taliban attack, and also in exile in Great Britain. Adult activists make less of an international splash, perhaps, but they also stand up to the Taliban.
She is iconic in the international struggle. If at first we listened to Malala Yousafzai because of her sacrifice, her youth, and her resulting celebrity as a survivor. Now we listen because of her proven courage and her eloquence. But it is her youth, I think, that keeps her in the spotlight, and gives her more celebrity than adult activists.
We see in her the teenager we wish we could have been. So we’re willing to listen, and because she is, in fact, a gifted speaker and a natural leader, she educates us as well as inspires.
This blog is dedicated to Aitziz Hasan’s courage. We don’t know what kind of leader he might have become if he had survived, but saving his school was an act of resistance and leadership in itself. I honor his sacrifice, and mourn his loss.