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Malala and the flame of education

Published: 
Sunday, August 3, 2014

The other day I heard someone criticise Malala Yousafzai for not speaking out against the war crimes being committed in Gaza—the hundreds of dead children, the thousands of wounded children.

I wanted to say, “What happened to you? Why do you always wait for ‘someone’ to ‘speak up?’ Why not you?” Admiring Malala doesn’t make us admirable by osmosis. Emulating her is a better way.

She’s still just a little girl. Barely 17.

She’s not an ordinary girl, you might say. But what makes her extraordinary? What does she have that has all of us falling over ourselves to fete her, to get VIP tickets to see her, to take photos with her?

What does it take to be Malala? What does it take for a child born of a poor family in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, in a shabby shack of two rooms 100 miles from the capital city of Islamabad, to deliver her message to the hallowed halls of the United Nations in New York?

What does it take for a girl to leave her homeland (described in her book I Am Malala)—a “heavenly valley of mountains, gushing waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes, fields of wildflowers, orchards of fruit, emerald mines, trout-filled rivers”—to take up residence in dreary Birmingham, and to go on punishing schedules of appearances in front of thousands of strangers in strange countries, to be gawked at endlessly?