Because I’m that kind of obnoxious pacifist, Dead Poet’s Society-wannabe grad student and I teach at a university where my students mostly come from sheltered, privileged backgrounds (which I identify with, so I get it), once a semester as we dig into cultural analysis or public discourse, I like to talk about the places of privilege from which we speak and the way our social locations, largely accidents of birth, shape our worldviews and how, once we see that, we can hopefully push-back against our own complicity in systems of injustice. The freshmen look shocked. Hanging over that conversation for me today is the shooting of 14 year-old Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani girl dedicated to advocating for girls’ rights to education.
Starting when she was 11 years-old, Malala has advocated for the rights of girls to education, speaking out against the oppression of the Taliban, which sought to ban education for women. She has written a blog for the BBC’s Urdu outlets, chronicling her life and her experiences getting to and from school covertly and then after the Taliban shut down her school. She was awarded Pakistan’s Peace Prize last November.
Last week, she was shot on her way home because her ongoing advocacy was deemed “advocating secularism.” Thursday, the Taliban issued a statement “defending the attempted killing on religious grounds, saying anyone who ‘campaigns against Islam and Sharia (Muslim law) is ordered to be killed by Sharia.'” (CNN) Should she survive, they have insisted they will attack again. Malala was airlifted today to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England (BBC).
Obviously, there’s so much I could say that is just preachy or redundant. And, because the education of girls is, you know, a subject I feel passionately about, there is a lot I want to say. I will keep at my studies so I can keep working in that direction. Right now I just have three simple notes:
1) As a person, as a woman, getting a funded PhD, at a good school no less, I remind myself constantly that I am a privileged person. Education is an immense blessing and when I complain about the hardships, it takes about two beats for guilt to set in. I think it is my duty to turn this gift around and do something with it that benefits someone other than myself. And I hope that I can help my students to feel that way even a little bit.
2) Listen to Malala. Just listen. (WordPress wouldn’t let me embed) Let’s not doubt that one small voice can make a big noise. Her courage and intelligence are astounding.
3) Listen to the interview with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Christiane Amanpour. One of the trends I keep track of in my research is the way the child and the girl child are used as symbols of a nation/culture’s futurity. In a very real way that’s what’s happening in this incident. Symbolically the outcry about the violence against Malala marks resistance to extremism (perhaps a tad late) and the culpability of governments who tolerate people who shoot children. Leaders are calling it a turning point. Let’s all hope and pray it doesn’t take her martyrdom to foster real change. But Malala has become the face of an important cause and she has done so not by adult constructions of her girlhood, but through her own courage and her own determination to speak her mind and demand her rights. She is amazing.
Update: Read Gordon Brown’s piece about the way Malala’s story casts light on the failure to provide universal education.
Okay, I’m stepping off the soap box and getting back to the books, counting my blessings, and praying for Malala’s recovery and safety.