Friday, October 12, 2012

A young Girl Takes on the Taliban

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

So he went with him.

He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.
Mark 5:21-24,40-42

Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!"

In a perfect world, when she was 11 years old Malala Yousafzai would have been playing with the Pakistani equivalent of an American Girl doll. But in the violent and unjust world in which she found herself this schoolgirl was taking on the Taliban by voicing her passion for education. As Taliban fighters overran her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, Malala spoke about her plans to become a doctor and defied the Taliban’s crusade to subjugate women by denying an education to girls like Malala.

On T.uesday they came for her. Masked gunmen boarded a crowded school bus, singled her out, and shot her in the head and neck as other terrified children watched. She survived, along with two other girls who were wounded. Doctors at a hospital in Peshawar reported that she was in critical condition.

Incredibly, the Taliban claimed “credit” for the attack and promised that if she survived they would come back for her. Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban spokesman confirmed by phone that the Taliban had targeted her and called her campaign for girls’ education rights an “obscenity.” Ehsan went on to say that Malala “has become a symbol of Western Culture in the area; she was openly propagating it.” “Let this be a lesson,” he warned.

In a New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof  reports speaking with Fazal Moula Zahid, a close family friend, who told him that doctors were hopeful that there has been no brain damage and that she will ultimately return to school.

“After recovery, she will continue to get an education,” Fazal said. “She will never, never drop out of school. She will go to the last.”

“Please thank all your people who are supporting us and who stand with us in this war,” he added. “You energize us.”

It would be wrong to see the Taliban as the voice of Pakistan. The government is hardly a model of progressive tolerance, but they are basically at war with the Taliban. On the other side of the political spectrum, it was a major setback for Pakistan’s progressives, who were appalled and frustrated by the attack. Nadeem Paracha, a media commentator posted his sarcastic assessment on Twitter, “Come on brothers,” he wrote, “Be REAL MEN. Kill a school girl.”

Sadly, misogyny is a world-wide problem.

Writing on “The International Day of the Girl,” Kristof linked the shooting in Pakistan to an incident in Indonesia where a fourteen year old girl was lured into captivity by sex traffickers and then raped for a week. She was finally released after her disappearance was reported on the local news.

When her school found out what had happened, the school publicly expelled her in front of hundreds of classmates. According to a report by Indonesia’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, they did this because she had “tarnished the school’s image.”

In the struggle for gender equality, education plays a critical role. That’s why the Taliban wants to silence Malala Yousafzai.

“This is not just Malala’s war,” said a 19-year-old female student in Peshawar. “It is a war between two ideologies, between the light of education and darkness.” Kristof notes that at the time he spoke with her the young woman said she was happy to be quoted by name. “But after what happened to Malala, I don’t dare put her at risk.”

Throughout Pakistan there are extremist schools financed by misogynists from Saudi Arabia and other nations. Kristof writes, “They provide meals, free tuition and sometimes scholarships to lure boys—because their donors understand perfectly that education shapes countries.”

Foreign aid from the United States is mostly directed toward the military. Less than a tenth of our aid dollars go toward education. The military aid is at best a short term solution. In the long run, it is education that will shape the country. Malala’s struggle transcends nation and gender and religion. It is about shaping the kind of world we want to live in. Her struggle is our struggle.

Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”

It is through the education of young women in Pakistan and around the world that Jesus’ words will come alive.

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