MALALA, MATTHEWS AND MADDOW: When the Great Souls present!


Part 1—Not against anyone: This one time, we’ll let you ask us about our travels!

We went to the Hudson Valley this weekend, as we periodically do, to visit our older friend who is in nursing home care. He happens to be the late Ed Lauter’s brother-in-law.

We knew that one of Ed’s sisters would be drawn to the person, and to the story, of Malala Yousafzai, the “education activist” who was shot by the Taliban last year when she was barely 15.

For that reason, we took along Parade magazine’s cover story about Malala. By happenstance, the New York Times ran en op-ed column this Saturday which helped trace this young person’s spiritual lineage.

Historian William Dalrymple’s piece recounted a surprising fact. Despite stereotypes which now obtain, Malala’s Pashtun society includes strong traditions of Gandhian nonviolent resistance and of strong female leadership.

According to Dalrymple, this heritage encompasses the 19th century teenager for whom Malala was named:
DALRYMPLE (10/26/13): Malala’s extraordinary bravery and commitment to peace and the education of women is indeed inspiring. But there is something disturbing about the outpouring of praise: the implication that Malala is a lone voice, almost a freak event in Pashtun society, which spans the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan and is usually perceived as ultraconservative and super-patriarchal.

Few understand the degree to which the stereotypes that bedevil the region—images of terrorist hide-outs and tribal blood feuds, religious fanatics and the oppression of women—are, if not wholly misleading, then at least only one side of a complex society that was, for many years, a center of Gandhian nonviolent resistance against British rule, and remains home to ancient traditions of mystic poetry, Sufi music and strong female leaders.

While writing a history of the first Western colonial intrusion into the region, I heard many stories about the woman Malala Yousafzai is named after: Malalai of Maiwand. For most Pashtuns, the name conjures up not a brave teenage supporter of education, but an equally brave teenage heroine who turned the tide of a crucial battle during the second Anglo-Afghan war.
We strongly recommend Dalrymple’s column. World culture is varied and powerful!

We thought Dalrymple’s column was thrilling. Then, on YouTube, with our friend, we played the tape of Malala’s speech at the United Nations, this past July, on the day she turned sixteen.

We had never watched the full tape, although we were struck by the excerpts we saw in real time. Thanks goodness for the inspiration of friends! That may be the most unusual tape we have ever watched, the most unusual public performance.

On the day she turned 16, this very unusual person began her address to a UN Youth Assembly like this:
MALALA (7/12/13): In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful.

Honorable UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon; respected president, General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic; honorable UN envoy for global education Mr. Gordon Brown;

Respected elders, and my dear brothers and sisters:

Assalamu alaikum.

SOME IN AUDIENCE: Assalamu alaikum.

MALALA: Thank you.
Later, we’ll suggest that you listen to that first exchange. But that’s what this very unusual person was doing on the day when we American kids may get our first driver’s license.

This morning, we’ll suggest that you do yourself a favor by watching that very unusual 17-minute tape.

“Thank you to the children whose innocent words encouraged me,” Malala said, referring to her physical recovery over the past year. “Thank you to my elders, whose prayers strengthened me.

“I would like to thank my nurses, doctors and the staff of the hospitals in Pakistan and the UK and the UAE government, who have helped me to get better and recover my strength.”

The United Nations had declared this day “Malala Day.” The honoree expanded the honor:

“Dear brothers and sisters, do remember one thing. Malala Day is not my day...There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality.

“Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists, and millions have been injured. I am just one of them.”

To our ear, and this speech must be heard, one of the most remarkable moments came when Malala described the way the Taliban failed in their attempt to silence her and her friends, two of whom were also shot in the attempt to kill her.

“They thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed,” she said. “And out of that silence came thousands of voices.

"The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this:

“Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

You have to hear the way that last declaration was rendered.

Already, this was perhaps the most unusual tape we had ever watched. But we were most struck by the passage in which Malala described her moral lineage, after making a statement to which we direct your attention:
MALALA: Dear sisters and brothers! I am not against anyone.

Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban, or any other terrorist group.

I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists.

I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him.

This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha.

This is the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhiji, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa.

And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother.

This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

Dear sisters and brothers! We realize the importance of light when we see darkness...
I am not against anyone, Malala said, and the emphasis was hers. She then said that she had learned her values from a list of history’s Great Souls.

The Great Souls don’t appear every day. (By that, we mean the people who can perform the duties of the Great Soul on the world stage.)

Is it possible that this extremely unusual person is the latest of the Great Souls? It may seem strange to ask such a question about someone so young. But when the Great Souls appear, they tend to present at an early age.

By tradition, Jesus amazed the elders when he was only 12. In Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King almost apologizes for the tardiness of his own search.

“Not until I entered Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948, however, did I begin a serious intellectual quest for a method to eliminate social evil,” Dr. King ruefully says.

Dr. King was 19 when he entered Crozer. Meanwhile, in this other YouTube tape, you can see Nelson Mandela describing the way he and his comrades “identified with” Anne Frank when they read her book in prison.

(“What we took away from that is the infinite ability of the human spirit, which expresses itself in different ways in different situations.”)

Did Mandela really identify with Anne Frank? In that statement, Mandela is saying that he saw himself in a book which was written, then rewritten, when Anne Frank was 14 years old.

Who will Malala turn out to be? We have no idea. But we were thrilled by the brilliant gumption with which she announced and accepted her moral and ethical lineage. And we were struck by her statement that she isn’t “against” anyone.

We’ll admit it! It made us think of the moral shortfall we see at Salon and on The One True Liberal Channel. On that channel, we are instructed, night after night, in the ways to be against others.

Explicitly, Malala rejected that approach. Why would somebody do that?

Tomorrow: Being against

Concerning that first exchange: Listen to that first exchange between this young person and her audience.

“Assalamu alaikum,” some in the audience say. “Thank you,” Malala replies.

Have you ever heard the sound of one hand clapping? Translating to our own cultural context:

Given the degraded norms of our public discourse, have you ever heard a public statement which was completely devoid of pomposity and self-reference?

That’s what we hear in that extremely quiet, “Thank you.” That’s the sound you will never hear from Lawrence, Chris Matthews or even from Rachel as you’re instructed, night after night, in the multitudinous ways to be against.

The greatest achievers have rejected that stance. Why would we want to adopt it?


  1. So once again, Bob hears Malala and his first thoughts are of three people he rails against.

    And not only that, he fashions Malala into yet another club to beat them some more.

    1. This is what you hear. Just go away.

  2. Imagine how dismissive Bob would've been of this post were instead a column by Nick Kristof.

    1. You read a call to search your soul for the inner strength to become a better human being and this is all you can come up with? Where is the light in the darkness?

    2. Oh, that's what it was? A call to search your soul for the inner strength to become a better human being, with a side of MSNBC-bashing thrown in for good measure?

    3. Yes, I search my soul for the inner strength to become a better human being, and the first thing I do is....bash Rachel and Chis!

  3. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." --- Jesus

    "And I come by here to say that America too is going to Hell, if we don't use her wealth. If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell." MLK, Jr.

    God bless them both, but neither are to Hallmark cards of Bob's imagination or convenience.

    And I think we know how MLK might've ---- just might've --- thought about the Zimmerman trial or Prof Gates' arrest in his own home.

    1. I don't think you know how MLK would've thought about anything. Go away.

    2. Right. Because in Bob's World, it's simply impossible to review all of the statements, writings, and positions of a public figure and extrapolate from that what the person *might* have thought about an issue.

    3. What would MLK have said about the racial murder of Britney Watts. He probably would say nothing just like Obama and Holder. Harvard professor acts out with a police officer and Obama has to say something because te Harvard professor is black.

    4. Lionel, here is a website you would like:

  4. In multitudinous ways, Jesus, MLK, and Ghandi were very much against.

    1. I believe that each one of them realized that the best way to be "against" something is to be "for" something better. You can't just be "against" something you don't like. Why does this remind me of the Republicans in Congress?

    2. You got that reversed. They were "for" something -- the dignity and potential of all human beings -- before they decided to take courageous stands "against" the systematic structures that denied all human beings their dignity and potential.

    3. Clearly they were against many things. The point is that inspiring others requires a positive stance, not a negative one.

    4. "The point is that inspiring others requires a positive stance, not a negative one."

      Exactly. You effect real change by appealing to the best in humanity, not the worst.

      Now is that what Somerby does with his daily railings against NYT op-ed columnists, MSNBC hosts and certain authors of books in areas in which he claims expertise? And especially when the aforementioned columnists are younger, wealthier and more female than he?

  5. Gee, Bob, you still believe anything they tell you. How do you know the story of Malala is what you have been told? You don't know and the people telling you that story - over and over for a long time now despite millions of other tragedies happening - are the same people who want us to keep on drone bombing Afghanistan and Pakistan and we will inevitably kill some more 7 year old boys collecting firewood.

    Dr. King again and eliminating social evil. Dr. King didn't lay a hair on social evil.

    But boy isn't that CLEVERRRR on the part of King and Mandela to say they identified with Anne Frank.

    1. If clever is what King and Mandela were, may I be the first to say that you could do with a dose of that kind of clever yourself. Even a small one. How to impart it to you though?

      Ridiculing you is no way forward, I know. So I admit I am at a loss.

      You assert, no, you *proclaim* publicly that world has not been improved by King? I admit, I am sad because I am sure you mean it.

      It would be easy to say you are a racist -- because you've shown us here in these comments many times that you are. I wonder really whether you would deny it or take pride in it?

  6. Something is wrong with our world when little girls cannot go to school, whether they are Malala or Anne Frank.

    We can disagree about how to accomplish change, but mocking those little girls and the people who have tried to change the world for the better is pretty ugly. I believe that Bob Somerby is trying to change the world for the better. I don't find his sources of inspiration particularly inspiring myself, but I do identify with his desire to see change and that is an important reason why I read this blog.

    Lionel, confused, lower case guy, KZ, and the slew of sockpuppets all sicken me and make these comments dismal. I wish Bob would screen them out, but I also wish the world were better and it clearly isn't yet. When more people want to see positive things happening and fewer are shooting at little girls, perhaps these comments will improve too. I live in hope.

    1. ". . . but mocking those little girls and the people who have tried to change the world for the better is pretty ugly."

      And who, pray tell, has done that?

      If you want to see a true mockery of all that Malala stands for, how about using her as a prop with which to beat three TV hosts you don't care for?

      And that, you poor sad fool who thinks Somerby is a champion for change, is EXACTLY what he just did.

      If he finds Malala so inspiring, why even bring up "Lawrence, Chris Matthews or even from Rachel" at all in the context of Malala's inspiring speech except to advance the narrative that exists only in Somerby's fevered, narrow mind?

    2. I don't care much for the narrative in your fevered mind either.

    3. Anon2:26pm, when she's used as a contrast between what "our side does"...what *we* do and are, she is being used as an example of a higher a standard, not a prop.

    4. And when we get to the point of the column, which was how horrible, awful O'Donnell, Matthews, and Maddow are because they aren't like her, then she's being used as a prop to advance a narrative.

      Bob Somerby doesn't give a shit about Malala beyond her usefulness as yet another club to beat his despised MSNBC hosts with.

  7. brave anon says,

    "Lionel, confused, lower case guy, KZ, and the slew of sockpuppets all sicken me and make these comments dismal."

    >>> ive never used a sockpuuppet. not even 'anonymous' as my monicker except for a couple weeks when first started making comments here a long time ago.

    you and the other thought nazis make me sick...including godwin.

  8. malala says, "Dear sisters and brothers! I am not against anyone."

    this is semantic sleight of hand. sure she is *for* girls getting educated, but if the taliban is standing in the way of that, then she is definitionally against them or if you wish to be precise, against their anti-education acts.

    but how do you stop their anti-female-education activities without stopping them, the taliban? i cant see how unless the taliban were to decide to stop being the taliban.

    1. But lets not be for any more drone killing 7 year old boys collecting firewood so that girls can learn to read and write.

  9. Well, history has shown us that "they" are also pretty suspicious of white Christians who happen to be Democrats, and that they're quite happy to elect and support black Republicans -- but you go right ahead and pretend it's all about race and religion.

    After all, we all have a pretty good handle on you by now, no matter how frequently you change your handle: You're that insane lowercasefuckwit who thinks he can reduce everything in the world to what's really his own disorder.

  10. ...and then lowercaseguy disappeared in a puff of smoke, consumed completely by his own disgusting racism!

    But that's just temporary! He'll be back, spreading his disease again and again.