You See A Hero..I See A Scared Little Girl
You may recall Malala Yousufzai who was shot by the Taliban after speaking up for the education of young girls. She is now in Britain where she is beginning what is expected to be a long recovery from her injuries. John Marchese gives us a look into what he sees in her eyes and in her future…
The images streaming from the London hospital where she recovers fail to convey her youth or her strength. At 15, the victim of unimaginable intolerance, misogyny and cowardice, she fought for her life because she had the audacity to crave an education. To the world, she is a hero – an activist who, despite unimaginable danger, battled a tyrannical and evil regime. To me, she is a little girl who needs to be protected.
She should have been dreaming about what she wanted to be when she grew up or where she wanted to attend university after graduation. But as a young girl in Taliban-oppressed Pakistan where women are stoned and beheaded in public, she was forced to fight for the right to even have a future.
Her name is Malala Yousufzai and she has courage that is hard to comprehend. She was shot in the head at point blank range, ironically while returning home from school, by Taliban gunmen who wanted to quiet her ever-strengthening voice.
As an eleven-year-old, Malala, blogged anonymously about life under Taliban rule and the regime’s prohibition of girls’ education. Malala soon began speaking out publicly and last year was bestowed Pakistan’s National Peace Award. By then, she had brought so much attention to the plight of women in Pakistan that it was only a matter of time before the Taliban would try to silence her. In response to her growing notoriety, and the world-wide criticism that followed, the Taliban put Malala on its hit list.
The daughter of a teacher, Malala said in a recent interview, “I have the right of education.” And, in no small part because of her education, she realized that education was only the beginning. “I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market,” she added. Punctuating her interview, Malala identified the “right” the Taliban most wanted to deny. “I have the right to speak up,” Malala said.
Her courage has galvanized the world, including leaders in her own country, against the evils associated with the oppression of women. And she has awakened in us an awareness that one person with determination, even one so young, can have a profound effect on society’s dialogue.
But at what cost?
Reports about the success of Malala’s recovery have been good. She still needs help eating, talking and walking, but her family once prepared to make her funeral arrangements. Images of Malala lying in her Birmingham, England hospital bed tell a different story.
For the first time in her very public life, Malala Yousufzai looks like a vulnerable teenager. Just this past week, video surfaced of Malala clutching a teddy bear. Compared with her confident, almost cheeky pre-attack visage, Malala now looks uncertain and wary; her poised, confident smile replaced with a timid one. Her fire seems to burn a little less brightly now.
And it is understandable. Malala has experienced a dizzying array of emotions in her 15 years of life. In the blink of an eye, she went from clandestine activist to world-wide hero to assassination target. Now, she is forced to deal with an explicit threat that if she returns to her country, she will remain a target. Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, in admitting the group was responsible for the assassination attempt, promised to do it again. “Any female that, by any means, plays a role in the war against the mujahedeen,” Ehsan warned, “should be killed.” Looking into Malala’s eyes as she held onto that stuffed bear, it looks like she has grasped that grim reality.
In the abstract, I root for Malala’s triumphant and defiant return to Pakistan. Through her sheer will, Pakistan’s culture will be transformed. First, girls will be allowed in school without fear. Education, then, will be the catalyst in the fight to have all women treated as human beings rather than as property.
But then I look at Malala and see her fear – terrible, desperate fear. It is the look of someone faced with something they have no ability to comprehend or control. I have read thousands of words about Malala, her family and her country. The words focus on Malala’s recovery, certain return to Pakistan and how it will invigorate the effort to gain freedom for women in her country. What is missing is any discussion of what returning to that environment would do to Malala or whether she even wants to return.
I hope Malala’s father looks into her eyes, as I have.
The answer lies within.
What do you see when you look at this picture of Malala?
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John Marchese is an attorney, writer, imperfect father and husband of a perfect wife and mother. He is a shareholder at Colucci & Gallaher, P.C. in Buffalo, New York and a frequent contributor to The Disney Driven Life. John may be reached, followed or ignored at jjmarchese.com and onFacebook and Twitter.