CHARLOTTE, NC, October 11, 2014 – Her last name is Yousafzai, but most of the world knows her only as Malala.
Two years ago, she was a 15-year old Pakistani schoolgirl seeking an education.
Today she is a global heroine and a Nobel Peace Prize winner for being an outspoken activist for human rights and the education of women.
While sitting on a crowded bus in northwestern Pakistan in 2012, a Taliban gunman entered the front door shouting “Who is Malala?”
Moments later the Pakistani teenager was unconscious and bleeding profusely, the victim of three gunshots, one to the head.
Three days after the shooting on October 12, a group of 50 Islamic clerics issued a fatwa against Malala’s would-be assassins, but the Taliban insisted they would carry out their mission to kill both the girl and her father.
Today, Malala continues her education in Great Britain, and, at 17, she is also the youngest Nobel laureate in history.
The teenage girl the Taliban attempted to silence has now become more vocal, and the strength of her voice can be heard around the world.
Malala is named after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poet from southern Afghanistan. Oddly enough, Malala translates to mean “grief stricken.”
Fluent in four languages, Malala became a national celebrity in 2008 when she spoke to a local press club in Peshawar. With media in attendance Malala challenged the audience by asking, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to an education?”
Malala’s demand was not only for herself, but for all Pakistani women who were being denied a legitimate education.
Soon after, at the request of the BBC Urdu website, Malala began writing a blog about life under the Taliban in the Swat Valley.
By 2009, the Taliban had issued an edict that no girls could attend school after January 15 of that year. It was not unexpected since the terrorist organization had already destroyed more than a hundred schools for women throughout the country.
Malala continued to document her life with interviews in print and on television. Before long she had become an international advocate, especially for women’s rights.
Growing up happens quickly in the Middle East. There is little time for childhood.
Living in a topsy-turvy region of the world where up is down and wrong is right, it is not surprising that reactions to Malala’s Nobel Prize were mixed in Pakistan.
Citing Malala’s critics, columnist Huma Yusuf wrote, “Her fame highlights Pakistan’s most negative aspect; her education campaign echoes Western agendas; and the West’s admiration of her is hypocritical because it overlooks the plight of other innocent victims, like the casualties of U.S. drone strikes.”
There is no rational means to counter that kind of reasoning. While it demonstrates the impossible task of negotiating with Islamists, it also serves as a graphic example of the magnitude of Malala’s accomplishments.
Malala has become an international symbol of the continual struggle against Islamic extremism.
At an age when little girls are usually going from childhood into full-fledged womanhood, Malala has already lived a lifetime.
Malala’s voice could not be silenced. United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon summed it up by saying, “With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most, a girl with a book.”
Malala was in a coma for more than a week. By early November she was sitting up in her hospital bed in Great Britain. She made a miraculous recovery and today continues her battle for human rights with a quality to her message that is comparable to Anne Frank.
Malala now attends Edgbaston High School for Girls in Birmingham, England where she and her family live.
Among the most eye-opening revelations in her new surroundings was the amount of freedom women enjoy.
“It was difficult to adjust to this new culture and this new society, especially for my mother, because we have never seen that women would be that much free,” said Malala.
Despite the ordeals of her past, Malala still believes her Pashtun culture teaches patience, peace and religious tolerance.
This year, Malala shares her Nobel Peace Prize with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.
Among the criticisms of the honor is that Malala does not represent the true essence of the award; an argument that is easily contradicted by the rather dubious credentials of some more recent honorees.
Malala is now among an elite group of one-named celebrities such as Sting, Cher and Madonna to mention a few. And though she is not a singer, her voice still resonates throughout the world.
At 17 she has become a global heroine the world will long remember, and her name is simply, Malala.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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