by Katixa Mercier
It’s amazing to me how powerful faith can be. It can be used as a means to soothe the worried and sick, to reassure the unsure, and to create a sense of community beyond the fence lines of neighbors. But faith can do just as much harm when used as a tool to justify killing and as a means to infect the minds of the devout. Every walk of faith has a skeleton in its history, a blemish in its past, such as an extremist group that excuses its actions in the name of faith. In this story, that group is the Taliban.
Extremist leaders in some ways are as clever as many world leaders in capturing the attention and rallying support for a greater cause—the difference being in the cause. In the northern provinces of Pakistan, the Taliban found a clever way to use Islam as a manipulative tool to undermine the rights of women. What started as limited trips to the market quickly evolved to banning women from attending classes. After storming the Swat Valley, the Taliban realized that true power is in education. What could possibly be more terrifying than a woman in public? An educated woman with a voice.
Enter Malala Yousafzai.
Yousafzai saw an opportunity. Already the recipient of Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize for promoting girls’ education in schools, she narrowed her scope on the culprit of her counter argument: The Taliban. Despite her father urging her not to mention the Taliban in her rallies, Malala saw it as an opportunity to give fear a name and place blame on the extremist group slowly taking away the rights of Pakistani women.
She rallied in schoolyards, city centers, and government buildings urging both the youth and government officials to reverse the ban on women’s education and challenge the Taliban’s increasing reign. From that moment on, she was in the cross hairs of the Taliban. Then what started as an ordinary school day, chatting with friends on a school bus, became her last recollection before waking in a hospital bed in Birmingham, England.
What Yousafzai doesn’t remember is a blessing; she was targeted by a Taliban boy who shot her at point blank in the head. Not many live to tell the tale after a gunshot wound to the head, but in the case of Yousafzai, it forged her destiny. After many reconstructive surgeries to her optic captivity and in the insertion of a cochlear implant, she returned her focus to her mission with vengeance, writing the international best seller I am Malala and accepting the Nobel Peace Prize shortly after her sweet sixteenth birthday. In short, this Pakistani teenage powerhouse has already lived many lifetimes in just her young one.
After such a trauma, many would have understandably withdrawn from any sort of attention. Yet Yousafzai preaches that in such circumstances not saying anything is the worst reaction. Free speech is a right, not an alibi. Using your voice in response to an event or action is an opportunity to promote change, not a platform to sheepishly state an opinion and withdraw. When questioned about the attack, she chooses not to focus on the hate that generated the act. Her response is simply astounding: “The best revenge is forgiveness.”
Yousafzai now attends Oxford University studying philosophy and politics and, in her spare time, travels the world spreading the message of the importance of women’s education. But who are the people behind, what is in the end, this teenage girl?
If it’s true that behind every great man is a greater woman, surely, the same is true for the reverse. Yousafzai’s main role models are her grandfather and father: men in academia who stood up for gender equality in education. Her father was the first to add a woman’s name to a family tree, a record otherwise left to the men of the family. That name? Malala.
Women have always been strong, and today, are only getting stronger. But, I find it worth mentioning that it is as important to empower women to foster change as it is to empower then men who are taking an active part in it too. If women can raise and empower their little boys to be egalitarian and respectful men, in the case of Malala Yousafzai, it’s been proven that those men go onto to raise not strong, but bulletproof little girls.
In the midst of the #metoo and #timesup movements, I hear a common thread: Up our standards. We have to up the standard for ourselves, up the standard for women’s pay equality, up our standards for those who represent us and above all, elevate and reevaluate the standard for men. It is absolutely my intention to promote equality, but in order to do so; there is a lot of hurt to heal, which means there is forgiving to do.
If Malala Yousafzai can forgive the boy who shot her in the head as her means of revenge, than surely we all have space to do the same as neither gender can be strong if held back by the weakness of pain, no matter the source.
Our current societal climate is as terrifying as it is exciting, which I find to be a unique opportunity. If children can be in the crossfire at school on one day and, in the same week, be publically speaking at town halls with governors creating change, then to me, there has never been a better time to be alive. We can bear witness to a paradigm shifting and a society learning and applying its knowledge for good.
When government officials realize that the most effective artillery worth investing in is in fact the education of a society, it wouldn’t necessarily create world peace, but it would certainly be a colossal step in the correct direction. To me a well-spoken, educated individual is far more threatening than any arsenal. I will agree and boldly say that today’s learning curve needn’t be so violent. But revolutions were never born from calm histories.
If Malala Yousafzai can survive a bullet to the head and go on to win a Nobel Peace prize, the rest of us are certainly capable of discovering what assaults the soul and doing everything in your power to fix it, even if it starts with something as simple as redefining your definition of revenge.
“We all die one day, why not live to help others?”
About the author: A triple threat: nerdy, always hungry, and the last one off the dance floor. Katixa Mercier lives locally and professionally marinates the Albuquerque metro area working for a boutique distributor. When not hosting a libation-centric event, she is likely cooking with her husband and dachshund, listening to vinyl.