The night before, she puts everything she needs in a backpack. Her uniform is hung in the closet, ready to go when she gets up at an ungodly hour to trek to school some 15 miles away from home. She quickly packs her lunch, grabs some breakfast on the go and is out the door to meet the bus in a parking lot two miles away. Her journey to school starts before sunrise, traveling in the dark with the only lights coming from the headlights of early morning traffic and the cell phones (hers and others) on the bus. She has hopes, dreams and laughter amidst the homework and daily schedule that is her life as a fourteen-year-old girl. It’s a routine I see happen daily with my own daughter.
Since news of the shooting of a fourteen year old Pakistani girl by a Taliban gunman, a ninth grader named Malal Yousafzai broke, I’ve wrestled with feelings of heartbreak and sheer anger. This young woman could be my own daughter, another happy ninth grader, and what happened to her is nothing short of despicable. Just when you think the Taliban can go no lower, they fasten a new bottom rung to their ladder of inhuman ethos.
I cannot imagine the pain of the girl’s parents, who while fearing for all of the things that parents fear for their children are also grappling with the fact they may lose her for doing what she wanted to do – go to school and learn. This remarkable young woman found her voice early in life and raised it in remarkable ways in her community. This garnered the notice of the BBC, who shared her thoughts and wishes with anyone willing to read them. Raising that voice though came with deadly threats. Malal was well-aware of the risks, but they did not silence her.
I am always stunned by instances where learning was deemed a criminal activity and the savage lengths so-called members of humanity will go to put it down. Such is the case with the Taliban, who, despite U.S. strategies for negotiated peace deals, remain committed and content with imposing a life and ideology that make the Stone Age look quaint and serene.
Much of the world finds the Taliban abhorrent, but what I find just as disturbing is the deafening silence coming from the streets of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places in this region. People seem to be willing to riot, burn flags, storm buildings and be in a full-throated roar over a stupid YouTube video or newspaper cartoon, but when the blood of child is spilled for wanting to go to school and learn… well, that evidently is just not worth taking to the streets.
Cultural differences on gender roles aside, the seeming tolerance for allowing anyone to do this to a child, female or male is a threshold that people need to come to terms with and decide who they are as a people. The fact that Malal survived the shooting and is fighting for her life is testament to her own spirit; the fact that the Taliban has proclaimed that they will work to finish the job and kill her is testament to theirs.
I’m not so stupid, naive or jingoistic to believe that all Pakistanis or Afghans are Taliban sympathizers or think that what happened to Malal is appropriate. To think such a thought would be colossal fallacy, but as American blood and treasure are spilled in the region, it’s worth asking: if people are willing to roar over an insulting video and political cartoons, why are they not ready to rage in support of a child coming from school, who simply enjoyed the ability to read and write? A child is your own flesh and blood that can carry on your name, culture, and history, but somehow offensive images are more prone to spark uncontrollable emotions and crowds in the streets than the attempted murder of a child? That equation seems out of whack to me.
I’m sure if I were to ever meet Malal’s father, we might have a lot in common. We both hope our daughters will grow up to be people who will make the world a better place. I’m sure we would share the observations that all fathers of daughters have – seeing the innate power our girls have to light up a room with their smile and find joy in a new book they’ve just received, or a song they just heard, or in a new person they now call a friend.
I’m sure we would both take pride in the people that our daughters are becoming, despite the challenges they’ve faced or what the world around them is putting before them. We might even share in the struggles of how hard it is to protect them from the harms – known and unknown – that might cause their paths to be interrupted. That point in our conversation would be the most anguishing, given what he faced in sending his daughter to school compared to the ease and comfort that I have in watching mine board the bus in the early morning darkness.
What might give him some sense of comfort amidst his family’s heartbreak is knowing that others around him will raise their voice while his daughter’s is stilled, saying “no more” to mindless barbarism that is the Taliban. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing right now is how painfully alone he is and that is just as heartbreaking to me as shooting a young woman for wanting to learn.