Yesterday in Pakistan, 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck by a member of the Taliban while she was sitting on her school bus. Two others were also injured in the shooting.
Malala wasn’t shot randomly, though. The Taliban specifically targeted her because she is famous in Pakistan as a feminist blogger. In 2009, she wrote under the pseudonym Gul Makai (or “Face like a Flower”) about her fears about the Taliban’s attempted crackdowns on education and civil liberties for BBC Urdu’s blogs. (You can check out some of her writing here). Once identified, she was praised by Pakistan’s Prime Minister for speaking so eloquently and honestly on behalf of women’s rights and was awarded Pakistan’s very first Peace Prize.
Her work didn’t just attract admirers, however, but also enemies.
According to the Taliban’s spokesperson – who confirmed that the group was responsible for the shooting – Malala was targeted on their hit lists because in his (translated) words, “She was pro-West, she was speaking against the Taliban and she was calling President Obama her ideal leader… She was young but she was promoting Western culture in Pashtun areas.”
Essentially, her “crime” was having a differing opinion and voicing it on the internet.
I think it should go without saying that one of the greatest thing about being a human being is that we are all individuals. We are born with our own minds. We have our own unique life experiences that define who we are. We have our own individual opinions on life based on those experiences. To be human is to have opinions, thoughts, ideas and passions that belong to no one else but yourself. Some people define this sacred individuality as a soul.
To say that any person should be denied the right to voice his or her opinions based on race, age, class, religion or gender is pretty much the same as saying you don’t consider that they’re human. Opinions exist naturally in all human beings. You can’t stop it.
Malala’s opinion needed to be silenced by the Taliban not only because it was a female’s opinion, but also because her opinion threatened the Taliban’s power by actively encouraging other men and women to think against them. She felt very strongly that women deserve an education. Learning only promotes new and original thought in people. To limit education is to limit minds, and to limit a mind is to limit a human being’s ability to be human.
The political leaders who want to squelch education in the masses and amongst minorities historically tend to be the same political leaders who want to lord over those masses and minorities without any dissenting voices. Leaders who restrict access to education and freedom of expression tend to be dictators and thugs.
Malala was shot because she dared to voice her dissenting opinion in an international forum. She dared to suggest not only that everyone was entitled to an opinion–but that she, a schoolgirl, had as much a right to criticize the government as any political or military leader. Just by blogging for the BBC she was defying the Taliban because she refused to be silent.
Maybe you’re thinking Malala’s shooting has nothing to do with you or maybe you disagree with her politics or maybe you’re thinking she was dumb to stand up to the Taliban in the first place or maybe you just want to see some nail art or maybe you want to point out that this sort of atrocity happens all the time in other parts of the world and it enrages you that we don’t recognize it.
The point is, Malala was shot because she believed that you have every right to think any of those things I just listed and that you have every right to voice them. You should voice them. And most importantly, you should voice them without fear.
Malala was afraid of Taliban retribution. She had to hide her books under her bed in case they stormed her house. She used a pen name. She wrote about how she was afraid they would come and do to her, well, what they did.
I’m almost twice Malala’s age and I’m often afraid to publicly express my own opinions. Sometimes, even on this site–which I know is a warm and supportive community for female voices–I feel nervous about getting too political or controversial with my opinions. As women, we aren’t exactly encouraged to “stir the pot” unless that pot is filled with spaghetti sauce. Even in 21st century New York City, I sometimes keep my thoughts and opinions to myself because I’m afraid of verbal and physical retribution. I’m afraid that if I point out inequalities that I’ll be labeled a “whiner”. I’m worried if I verbally respond to a catcall, I’ll be physically or sexually assaulted.
I’m starting to realize that the fact that I feel afraid about expressing my point of view is a signal that I need to speak up. If you’re feeling afraid or nervous about expressing yourself, that is a sign that you’re being repressed.
It is imperative as women that we make our voices heard. And guess what? We won’t always agree with each other. In fact, because we are individual human beings and not just part of a great, perfect, feminine blob, we will always have dissenting opinions. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t voice them–nor should we voice them in a way that bullies others or causes our peers to fear expressing their own opinions. It means we have to have open dialogue with each other.
Malala believed that she was entitled to have open dialogue with the world and she–in my personal opinion–was absolutely right.
Be like Malala. Blog your beliefs. Scream from rooftops. Disturb the status quo. Make sure your voice is heard.
When you’re a woman in this world, having a unique voice is a rebellion in and of itself.
Don’t let anything silence you.
Be a rebellion.