Today is Malala Day, named after the extraordinary, courageous Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. Malala remains a fierce proponent of education for all, even after being shot in the head by members of the Taliban and seeing her friends murdered. As she said earlier today, “They thought that the bullet would silence us…but they failed.”
Malala was honored by the UN today and responded by giving one of the great speeches in UN history. She began by thanking God and reminding us that all people are equal before God. She highlighted the efforts of human rights activists around the world and signified her commitment to speak for the voiceless. She denounced poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism, and the deprivation of basic rights.
The speech revealed the generosity of her spirit, as she spoke without malice toward the Taliban, instead putting forward a vision of peace and justice. She endorsed the philosophy of nonviolence and expressed her commitment to love and forgiveness.
At the same time, she pulled no (rhetorical) punches in denouncing the terrorists’ myopic worldview. She challenged their interpretation of Islam and understanding of God. She discussed the power of education and pointed out how much it frightens the extremists, especially the education of women.
She called upon the governments of the world to ensure free, compulsory education for every child. And she asked “the developed nations to support the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world.” She noted, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” And she called upon her “sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”
She ended with this passionate plea:
So let us wage, so let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.
The full speech can be viewed below: