Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani Girl, Speaks of Gandhi, Peace, and Forgiveness

I cannot remember how many years back a speech moved me the way Malala Yousafzai's did. [A couple of days later, I feel the same.] Like Rosa Parks before her, whose action in refusing to go to the back of the bus changed the course of history, could 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai's speech at the UN today change history?

It reminded me of the time when I was 16, and was beginning to participate in debating competitions; while I delivered a few snappy and bold speeches, I could summon up nothing like the eloquence, depth of content, and breadth of vision that Malala Yousafzai displayed in her amazing speech.

Almost everything she said was meaningful and important, including her plea for the universal right to free education, which we can ensure with a mere one-tenth of what the world spends on armaments and armies. But what made it even more special for me was that she talked of peace, asking the leaders of the world to stop war and turn their attention to peace, education, tolerance, and equality.

That a Pakistani girl, in such a public forum, would speak with reverence of Mahatma Gandhi--who must be considered an enemy by some in Pakistan--and speak also of forgiveness and nonviolence: that was a demonstration of true courage and independence of mind.

It is not unlikely that she received some help with the speech, but it did not seem to me that the thoughts and the spirit that infused it were not hers. I doubt that her integrity would permit her to voice thoughts that she did not strongly agree with.

Others will see in it their own specific, narrow agendas. All I saw was a young woman speaking to humanity, and for humanity, without division. One who called on world leaders to stop their endless wars and work for prosperity and equality. And one who rebutted many negative stereotypes about Islam.

If I happened to be a world leader sitting in that audience, that speech would make me feel tiny and insignificant. And rightly so. But I hope I would pick myself up and go on to be more courageous than I have been.

A few quotes: "So, today we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity."
"This is what my soul is telling me: Be peaceful and love everyone."
"We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced." [It is not just the Taliban that engage in silencing. Western powers also silence the voices that they find inconvenient; I write about this in Impressing the Whites and The Killing of an Author.]

I say this as a man who is not easily impressed, who has been rendered deeply cynical by the events in his life, by experience, and even by that spellbinding orator, Barack Obama, who let us all down, after his first election, and then his second.

Am I too naive to hope that this speech will prove to be more than a photo opportunity for the Real Rulers and their puppets, more than a ceremonial blip in world history, a speech that politicians and other leaders pays lip service to before returning to business as usual?

Well, that's about the only thing we have left, besides the scraps of bread and circuses the Masters throw at us: the ability to hope and to dream.

And after all, Rosa Parks did change the course of history, as did Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi.


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