I have never heard such calm, yet resolute wisdom in the words of a sixteen-year-old.
“I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
Nine months after a Taliban terrorist shot her in the head returning home from school, Malala Yousafzai addressed a gathering of students from around the world at the United Nations last Friday – a day the U.N. declared Malala Day.
But listen to the Gandhi-inspired wisdom of this incredible, young woman.
“Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.”
Malala’s crime, in the eyes of the Taliban: affirming that every young girl in Pakistan has a right to an education.
In that speech, Malala stressed, “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.”
I wish Malala would speak to a joint session of Congress – a place known more for hubris than humility. They could learn more than a few lessons in character. Where Congress sees reticence, Malala sees openness. Where they practice pessimism, Malala practices hopefulness. Where they demonstrate weakness, Malala can teach them the meaning of courage.
While addressed to youth, Malala’s words really apply to all of us. In light of the demonstrations after the Zimmerman trial, all of us should pay attention to her message that hatred, violence and extremism in all forms can be overcome if we work together.
“…Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights. There are hundreds of Human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for human rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goals of education, peace and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them.
“So here I stand… one girl among many. I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights: Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.
“Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. 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. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.
“Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorists group. I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child. I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists especially the Taliban.
“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. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone. …
“The wise saying, ‘The pen is mightier than sword’ was true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women… they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our society.
“I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist, ‘Why are the Taliban against education?’ He answered very simply. By pointing to his book he said, ‘Talib doesn’t know what is written inside this book.’ They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school.
“The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits. Pakistan is peace-loving democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood. Islam says that it is not only each child’s right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility.
“Honorable Secretary General, peace is necessary for education. In many parts of the world especially Pakistan and Afghanistan; terrorism, wars and conflicts stop children to go to their schools. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering in many parts of the world in many ways. In India, innocent and poor children are victims of child labor. Many schools have been destroyed in Nigeria. People in Afghanistan have been affected by the hurdles of extremism for decades… Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems faced by both men and women.
“Dear fellows, today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves. …
“So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity.
“We call upon the world leaders that all the peace deals must protect women and children’s rights. A deal that goes against the dignity of women and their rights is unacceptable.
“We call upon all governments to ensure free compulsory education for every child all over the world.
“We call upon all governments to fight against terrorism and violence, to protect children from brutality and harm.
“We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of educational opportunities for girls in the developing world.
“We call upon all communities to be tolerant – to reject prejudice based on cast, creed, sect, religion or gender. To ensure freedom and equality for women so that they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.
“We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave – to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.
“Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child’s bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education for everyone. No one can stop us. We will speak for our rights and we will bring change through our voice. We must believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the world.
“Because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness. …
“So 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.”
We need a thousand more Malalas in this world.