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.We strongly recommend Dalrymple’s column. World culture is varied and powerful!
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 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.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.
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:
SOME IN AUDIENCE: Assalamu alaikum.
MALALA: Thank you.
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.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.
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...
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?