Finally, a feel good news story! Amid all the bad news and turmoil in the world nowadays, Ebola, ISIS beheadings, Middle East strife, nuclear proliferation, and economic uncertainty, to name a few, how uplifting is it to find a positive, uplifting news story?
Seventeen year old Malala Yousafzai, a human rights and women’s activist from Pakistan, has been chosen as the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014, sharing it with Lailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India. (There is a certain symmetry and irony in a Muslim from Pakistan and a Hindu from India sharing a Nobel Peace Prize, don’t you think?) Yousafzai is the youngest winner of this award in its 114 year history. As mandated by Alfred Nobel’s will the peace prize is awarded annually to those persons or entities that have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The Nobel Prizes were established and authorized by the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swede who was a well-known inventor, engineer, chemist and arms manufacturer. Among the more famous of his over 300 inventions were cordite and dynamite. These inventions made him an extremely wealthy man. Interestingly, by some quirk Nobel was able to read his own obituary. His brother had predeceased him, and apparently, at least one newspaper, thinking Alfred had died, published a rather unflattering obituary in which he was described as the “merchant of death.” Supposedly, Alfred was so taken aback by this unflattering characterization he decided to change his will and use his fortune for some good. One of these changes was the establishment of the Nobel Prizes. Alfred died for real in 1896, and the first Nobel Prizes were awarded according to his will’s specifications in 1901. Without boring you with the details there is a lengthy nomination process, which takes several months to complete. The entire process, including the nominated names or entities, is kept sealed for 50 years. Not even the nominees are aware that they have been nominated. The winners are announced in October. For some reason the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, while the others, for chemistry, economics, medicine, and physics, are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.
In order to appreciate fully the magnitude of this astounding achievement one must delve into Malala’s life story and background. Malala was born on July 12, 1997 in Minora, Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan. The area in which she lived was under the domination of the Taliban, which, as we know, strongly believes in suppressing women’s rights and has not hesitated to use force to achieve this goal. In February 2009 the Taliban began enforcing a ban on young women attending school in the area. They reinforced this ban by simply destroying the schools. In response, Malala’s father began to home-school her. Later in 2009, at the tender age of eleven, Malala began writing a blog for the BBC describing life under the thumb of the Taliban. One of the primary themes of her blog was to promote education of young women in the Swat district, where she lived. Even though she had used a pseudonym, apparently the Taliban eventually figured out her identity. First, she received death threats. These were published on Facebook and in newspapers and even slipped under her door. When that didn’t work, the Taliban leadership voted formally to assassinate her. Folks, just think. We’re talking about an 11 year-old girl! Finally, in 2012 a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus, seeking her by name. Once she identified herself, the gunman shot her three times and left her for dead. The assassination attempt backfired, however, as she recovered. All it did was raise her profile and trigger an outpouring of support for her and her cause internationally. To wit:
1. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, protests sprang up all over Pakistan.
2. In excess of two million people signed a petition supporting the “Right to Education” bill, which eventually was passed.
3. The Pakistani government offered a 10 million Rupee (US$105,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of the would-be assassin. In due course the assassin and all members of the conspiracy were captured.
4. Time magazine featured her on the cover of its April 29, 2013 issue and in that same issue named her one “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
5. In July 2013 she addressed the UN to speak out for greater access for females to education worldwide.
6. In September 2013 she was the key speaker at the opening of the Library of Birmingham, England. She has also spoken at Harvard and met with both Queen Elizabeth and President Obama.
7. She was the winner of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.
8. And, of course, the big one – she is co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
Like I said at the outset this is a real feel-good story. From humble beginnings, a young woman, a child, really, has led a movement, survived assassination by terrorists, met with world leaders and received the Nobel Peace Prize. If this were a Hollywood movie, we would deride it as unrealistic. A truly amazing story, and an inspiration to us all.