“Nothing you build on inaccuracy or mere hope or longing or lies or laws that oppose the nature of things can endure. When the wind comes in the form of a young teenage girl, it will all be blown away, down to the bedrock of what’s real, what’s true.”
– Augusten Burroughs, This Is How, pg. 227
Although he was referring to Claudette Colvin in 1955 in a chapter entitled How To Change The World By Yourself, The New York Times best-selling author could’ve easily been describing Malala Yousafzai in 2012 in his latest book (which I highly recommend, by the way).
This fifteen-year-old Pakistani native is one remarkable young lady. In just four short years, Yousafzai has so scared the bejesus out of the Pakistan Taliban with her fierce and undeterred advocacy for girls’ education and world peace (indisputedly uncontroversial ideas to all reasonable people), they recently attempted to assassinate her on a school bus in broad daylight. Stubbornly fundamentalist, the PT doesn’t believe in equality for women because they deeply fear it’s an American concept meant to brainwash and influence Muslims into the Western way of thinking, whatever that means. As hopelessly destructive as American imperialism truly is with its endless campaign of heartless violence in the Middle East, resulting in all this radical and sometimes paranoid, conspiracy-obsessed extremism, “corrupting” Muslim youth with basic education isn’t a part of their agenda. America prefers to kill rather than enlighten. But I digress.
Thankfully, Yousafzai appears to be on the road to recovery. Although she took two shots – one to the brain and one to her neck – from a masked PT gunman (two of her female classmates were also shot and have also survived) both bullets were reportedly safely removed during surgery. She has thus far not suffered any immediate brain damage and is no longer in a coma. She’s communicating, she’s writing, she can walk with assistance and her activist spirit remains high. Amazing. This is no ordinary human being.
Like Colvin, the first and youngest resister of Alabama’s degrading bus segregation policy (which was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1956), Yousafzai’s young life has been far from easy. (The never-married Colvin was a pregnant teen at the time of her courageous gesture which deterred civil rights activists from publicly championing her cause. They went with Rosa Parks instead.) In fact, even before she was recently targetted, she faced years of death threats and ominous warnings from misguided, scarily violent opponents of her positions.
But no matter how many times she has faced such harsh, unrelenting opposition, she refuses to buckle, she refuses to budge, even after being shot at. In 2009, she briefly submitted writings for a BBC blog under an alias documenting life in her violent neighbourhood. Once her real identity was revealed, she became the subject of a New York Times documentary entitled Class Dismissed which considerably raised her profile and earned her widespread praise. Despite the constant threats to her safety (as well as her family’s well-being, particularly her equally outspoken father, a big influence on her activism), including the very real possibility of another assassination attempt, she has continued to fearlessly advocate publicly for equal education and world peace.
Think about that for a moment. A tiny, teenage girl from a foreign land most of us have never visited and probably never will (because of its lack of stability) is so effective at communicating her message of equality and peace it has convinced a group of grown, perpetually angry militants in her native land to break one of its own principles (don’t kill women) in order to stop the spread of her growing influence.
That’s the power of truth, the power of honest communication, the power of basic human decency. Real power as opposed to fearful violence propping up an illusion. With mere words spoken and articulate sentences written, ideas of hope shared with a welcoming world, a brain-dead misogynistic philosophy (girls can’t go to school or they will die), only possible because of a violent atmosphere, is suddenly vulnerable, instantly discredited, on the long, demoralizing path to obsolescence.
In This Is How, Augusten Burroughs writes on p. 226:
“The world isn’t broken anymore. Or at least not all the way broken.
Because one little girl saw something glimmer beneath the surface and she knew by the shine of it that it was the truth.
She believed what she saw with her own eyes. She knew what she saw was the truth becuase that’s what the truth is, you see. The truth is the thing you recognize instantly, even if you’ve never seen it before. You know.
Your blood knows it. Even the air around you knows it.
Truth is not an opinion. It’s a force like gravity.
It’s the most valuable substance known to man.”
Again, he’s specifically talking about Claudette Colvin decades ago. But he might as well be describing Malala Yousafzai right now.
More from Burroughs, p. 227 of This Is How:
“She had seen the truth. She had spoken it out loud. And this unleashed it into the world.
The world changed.”
CNN reported that one demonstration of support for Yousafzai after her attack (there have been many worldwide) attracted some 25000 Pakistani citizens; men, women and children of various ages united behind her ideals the rest of us take for granted. World leaders like President Obama have publicly denounced what happened to her. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now working with the United Nations on global education, is giving her message political weight. Angelina Jolie has started co-financing an education fund. Many, many more of various backgrounds have voiced their public support, as well.
The goal of those assassin’s bullets didn’t silence hope, it greatly expanded its broadcast signal.
Now everyone is tuning in. May the message remain loud and clear.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, October 20, 2012