As I walked up Lexington Avenue on my way to my part-time job at the 92y, I reflected on the day I had already had at my full-time job at The New School: meetings, mostly vapid conversations, excel sheets, emails...I was tired. I just wanted to go home, drink a beer, and watch the Giants (lose to the Bears.) However, by the time I got to the building at 92nd Street and saw the CNN trucks, NYPD vans, and metal barricades surrounding a corralled crowd of ticket-holders, I picked-up my pace and found my second wind. I flashed my staff card and brusquely walked through the metal detectors. Everyone would be scanned by security. Bomb sniffing dogs roamed the lobby, bags were opened, upper-lips stiffened.
International correspondent, Christiane Amanpour would be arriving within the hour to interview the defiant and heroic sixteen-year-old education advocate, Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai.
“What?!... You don’t know who Malala is? Disgusting!” A snide, fashionable upper-East Sider snapped in an entitled and sardonic tone as she pushed her way past a scruffy looking hipster trying to find his way to the T.C. Boyle lecture (also happening on the same night, but in the auditorium on the second floor.) “How can you not know who Malala is?! It’s just disgusting!” Despite the woman’s overreactive objections to the young man’s ignorance, she was right - How could you not know who Malala was?
A year ago, on Oct. 9, 2012, a masked gunmen jumped into a van carrying Malala and other girls on their way home from school and asked the same question - “Who is Malala?!” When the Taliban terrorist discovered which one of the girls was the outspoken activist and blogger, he shot her in the face. Thankfully, Malala awoke a week later inside a hospital in Birmingham, England, where she gradually regained her most vital resource - her voice.
While Malala healed, we learned more about the struggle for women’s rights in Pakistan. The world also saw yet another example of the weak, violent, and cowardly methods the Taliban terrorists will take to silence the pursuit of free-inquiry and knowledge.
The international outpouring of sympathy and anger to Malala’s attack was immediate. Madonna dedicated her song “Human Nature” to Malala at a concert in Los Angeles on the day of the attack. Angelina Jolie and Laura Bush both wrote separate op-ed pieces. (Jolie would later go on to donate $200,000 to the Malala Fund for girls education.) A few days later, former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, would visit Malala in the hospital and launched a petition with the demand that by 2015 no child should be left out of school.
This past summer, Malala spoke at the United Nations on July 12th - her 16th birthday. The UN designated the event as “Malala Day.” At the UN, Malala spoke about her attackers saying, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born ... I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I'm here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists."
Malala’s international stature is almost surreal. This week she has appeared on the Daily Show, was awarded Europe’s top human rights prize, and was one of the likely contenders for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Malala is now more than an individual, she is (as she herself admits) part of a larger cause. When asked by Christiane Amanpour how Malala deals with continued threats against her life, she bravely explained that “even if the Talib was to kill me, they cannot kill this cause, which will live-on long after Malala.”
Those who attempt to criticize Malala as a symbol of “western interventionism” miss the fundamental point, which is the human right of education for all. Although the attack was widely condemned, invariably some fringe groups have fantastically gone so far as to claim the attack against Malala was staged by the CIA so as to further justify drone strikes against Pakistan. Thankfully, Malala would deflate these conspiracy theories by reasonably confronting (Nobel Peace Prize recipient) US President Barack Obama on Friday about stopping his use of drone strikes in Pakistan.
I believe the Nobel Peace Prize should have awarded the prize to Malala instead of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Then again, with all Malala’s talk of pursuing a political career and persistence to get her voice heard, there is a strong likelihood that this little girl (who is so wise and mature for her age) will one day receive the prize for her truly noble and courageous efforts to speak-out on behalf of the under-represented and oppressed people of the world who lack the means of acquiring a true education.
Before Malala left the 92y on Thursday, she told the crowd “I am never going to give up... they only shot a body, but they cannot shoot my dreams.”