This morning I had the pleasure of emailing my colleague Ziauddin Yousafzai to pass on my congratulations to his daughter Malala and to congratulate him and his wife Tor Pekai as well. Today Malala (along with the older child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi of India) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Some have said she is far too young to receive this most prestigious of all prizes. But beyond a personal tribute to her courage, smarts, and sheer tenacity, I believe the award will show other young people not only the huge impact they can have but also how desperately they are needed to rid the world of its ills. (And besides, if you had heard the story of how, in a private meeting in the White House, she challenged President Obama to stop dropping drone bombs and start sending more aid to schools and hospitals, you’d have no doubt about her ability to stand up to those with power in the name of peace.)
The prize is also a tribute to Malala’s parents. Malala has often said she was inspired by her father Ziauddin, a teacher who stood up to Taliban threats and opened a school for girls and boys. On a number of occasions, Ziauddin and I have talked about how important it is to respect our children’s ideas and independence as much as safe and possible. But in their case, the word “safe” seemed ruled out from the start. Ziauddin tells me he never imagined in his wildest dreams that the threats against him would be carried out against any of his children. As a parent whose moments of fear for my children’s independence centered around small everyday things like the first time they took the subway or streetcar on their own, it is not only impossible to put myself in the shoes of Ziauddin and Tor Pekai but, really, awe-inspiring.
Finally, the award is a rebuke to fundamentalists of all religions who want to turn back the clock and deny basic rights to girls and women. It is true, not all of them want to deny girls the right to an education. But all seek to maintain women as second class citizens and control over their own bodies and their own lives.
And, now that I think of it, it is the fundamentalists of all religions who bring inter-group conflict and war. Any challenge to them is, indeed, a boost for peace.
To Malala, her parents, and brothers: my most heartfelt of congratulations!