Malala Yousafzai, the young 17-year-old who was shot in the head when she was barely 15 for wanting to go to school and for speaking out her belief that every girl and boy should also go to school, has become the symbol of progress and advancement over the forces of hatred and extremism.
We should all applaud the Nobel Committee for awarding Malala the Noble Peace Prize. By doing so, they have amplified her voice and strengthened her advocacy for girls’ education, helping her to face down those who oppose a basic human right, the right to education.
She was shot because extremists believe that an educated girl is “dangerous” — someone who would reach beyond their control. An educated girl uses her mind, gains self- esteem, and becomes a confident young woman; an educated girl becomes a powerful woman. That is the last thing they want to accept or are able to tolerate.
These extremists believe ancient history, as they understand it, is to be relived and reinstated. They fear educated women and do not want girls to go to school. Instead, they want to marry them off at a very young age. The extremists know that a quality and relevant education liberates women, and and encourages them to make their own decisions. This is the last thing these so-called religious extremists want to hear about. An educated woman who is liberated, free, confident of her self, has self esteem, and can make decisions is the exact opposite of their world view. They want women to remain under their thumbs – oppressed, obedient, and unquestioning — always doing what they are told by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and even sons. They want complete control.
Education is seen as the obstacle to realizing this view. Education is the tool that women use to empower themselves and that is why the extremists are against it. Boko Haram, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and perhaps other pockets of extremism around the world are fearful of educated girls and intelligent women. Educated girls and women have reason and self-respect on their side, they have self esteem on their side, they have the ability to be free on their side, and above all they have the ability to recognize that all religions call for the respect, love, and justice towards all humanity.
Educated women bring up their children, boys and girls, on a doctrine that is not based on hatred or suspicion. Perhaps educated women would try their best to understand and respect the other and perhaps educated mothers might teach their sons and daughters that conflict resolution can happen without violence, and progress and advancement are better than destruction and terror.
Of course, I am assuming that the education system itself is teaching the right values and valuing the mind that is capable of reading, assessing, analyzing, and understanding truths, and I am assuming an education system that does teach hate and does not impose distorted views of religion or xenophobia.
Quality education frees girls and boys, women and men.
Quality education empowers girls and boys, women and men.
Quality education is transformative; it contributes to producing a human being that is open, who wants to understand the other, searches for universal truths, and aims at resolving conflict through dialogue not violence.
Malala is right. We should all advocate and work hard to facilitate, encourage, and bring into reality that every single girl and boy in the many poor shantytowns, the remote rural regions of all the countries of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the West, goes to school, stays in school, completes secondary education, and achieves quality education. When that happens, the poor and underserved populations will be nourished by new generations of educated, open-minded mothers. Then, and only then, the possibility of creating a world free of poverty, conflicts, and the horrible violence we are witnessing will become a reality.