Malala: The right recipient of the Sakharov Prize

Statement by the International Sakharov Committee:

Malala Yousufzai

The International Sakharov Committee wholeheartedly endorses and agrees with the decision of the European Parliament to award Malala Yousafzai the 2013 Sakharov Prize. Malala is a worthy recipient due to her bravery defending the right to education, much more fitting  than for instance controversial Edward Snowden. In spite of threats, intimidation and an assassination attempt from Islamists, she keeps up her dissident activities. Awarding her the Sakharov Prize is appropriate and right.

It is understandable that the Taleban desires to halt the education of women, for educated women are free women, able to independently contribute to society and live without control of their families or their husbands. Equal rights for women, regardless of backwards tradition or religious dogma, as well as the right of women to decide how many children to have, are preconditions for societies to develop peacefully towards prosperity and happiness. A situation where modern education prevails over reactionary religion would render Taleban and other Islamist movements irrelevant and powerless, setting people free to think and speak as they see fit.

Now, Malala did not rise to fame from day to day. Already in 2008, at the age of 11, she gave a speech at the Peshawar Press Club, where she asked: ”How dare the Taleban take away my basic right to education”? That won her much press coverage, and much emnity in Swat Valley, a Taleban stronghold where cruel methods are used to keep the local population under strict Islamic control.

The Urdu office of BBC was interested in getting reports from people living in the valley, and after much searching, Malala agreed to do so, blogging under the pen name Gul Makai for security reasons. The blog ran from January to March 2009, reporting on the daily events of Taleban, for instance their closure of schools for girls (Wikipedia):

After the ban, the Taliban continued to destroy schools in the area.[22] Five days later in her blog, Yousafzai wrote that she was still studying for her exams: “Our annual exams are due after the vacations but this will only be possible if the Taliban allow girls to go to school. We were told to prepare certain chapters for the exam but I do not feel like studying.”[22]

Still just a teenager, she kept appearing in public defending the right of women to get educated. This angered Taleban to the point where they decided to end the problem by taking her life, and the local Radio Mullah took up the task of defending Islam and send a murder squad to kill her. An assassination attempt that famously failed, as the gunman proved unable to kill an unarmed girl at a distance of a few feet. Malala was transferred to England for treatment, and is now well recovered.

But Malala would rather die than shut up. And although official Pakistani support for her plight lasted only two days, international recognition was swift and extensive. This led to a series of interviews, television appearences and top level meetings, including with the President of the United States, and to her addressing the UN General Assembly, where she explained what she stands for, among other:

Their right to live in peace.
Their right to be treated with dignity.
Their right to equality of opportunity.
Their right to be educated.

And despite opening her speech with the mandatory praise of Allah, she continues to work at odds with fundamentalist Islam, and thus sets her life at risk every time she advocates the right of women to be educated, non-violence and equal opportunity for all.

It is the profound hope of the International Sakharov Committee that the example set forth by Malala will inspire thousands of others to put courage first, stand for inalienable individual rights, freedom to acquire knowledge and equal rights for all. In doing so, there might be a Nobel Peace Prize in her future, as illustrated by this Ghandi moment on the Jon Stewart Show:

Asked by host Jon Stewart what she would do if confronted by attackers, Malala explained why she should not use violence:

“If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty…You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.

“I would tell him how important education is and that I would even want education for your children as well. That’s what I want to tell you,” she imagined telling her assailant, before adding, “now do what you want.”

That said, defeating Taleban ideologically and physically is urgently required to protect Malala and her work.

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