Millennial of the Year 2013: Malala

Malala Yousafzai is our first annual Millennial of the Year. Just 16 years old, she has already made outstanding contributions to the common good. From refusing to surrender her own right to education in the face of intimidation and violence to becoming a champion for the education rights of all children, Malala has become a hero to people across the globe. Her thirst for knowledge and truth, her merciful nature, and her passionate commitment to justice for all are worthy of admiration and emulation, but it is her extraordinary courage that truly sets her apart.

For those unfamiliar with Malala’s story, she was attacked by the Taliban for her commitment to education:

The teenage girls chatted to each other and their teachers as the school bus rattled along the country road. Students from a girls’ high school in Swat, they had just finished a term paper, and their joy was evident as they broke into another Pashto song. About a mile outside the city of Mingora, two men flagged down and boarded the bus, one of them pulling out a gun. “Which one of you is Malala Yousafzai?” he demanded. No one spoke—some out of loyalty, others out of fear. But, unconsciously, their eyes turned to Malala. “That’s the one,” the gunman said, looking the 15-year-old girl in the face and pulling the trigger twice, shooting her in the head and neck. He fired twice more, wounding two other girls, and then both men fled the scene.

In the face of this persecution, she has refused to stand down. And she has refused to let hatred consume her. She has said, “I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.” Here we see a mentality that radiates love and demands justice.

Malala is focused on issues that could transform global history and usher in an era of greater human flourishing and global justice. The education of girls is intrinsically good. But it also has the potential to reduce poverty, expand the protection of other human rights, and undermine repression and tyranny. It has the potential to unlock the creative altruism of millions of girls around the world. It is one of the most profoundly important causes of our era.

Malala’s courageous fight for girls’ education shows the promise and power of faith in action. Some contend that faith distracts people from what their real focus should be: improving conditions on earth. Setting aside the fundamental irrationality and incoherence of atheistic humanism as a worldview (of believing in both a strictly material universe and transcendent notions of right and wrong), Malala, a devout Muslim, shows that religious, integral humanism can be an even more powerful force for justice. Integral humanism moves beyond mere enlightened self-interest and directs its energy to the authentic good of others, to their flourishing as human persons. There is no firmer foundation for human rights. Malala’s faith is also the foundation of her extraordinary courage. Even in the face of death, she refuses to be stopped by fear. She knows that death is not the end and that love will have the final word. And this propels her to action rather than retreat.

Devotion to human dignity and justice for all. Faith in action. Countercultural courage. Malala embodies Millennial’s hopes for our generation. We’re proud to have her as our first annual Millennial of the Year. St. Ignatius challenges us to “go forth and set the world on fire.” Malala has. Will you join her?

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Award Criteria: The award goes to a millennial who made an outstanding contribution to human flourishing and the common good. Their actions reflect a commitment to the dignity and worth of the person.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The power of Christmas by Michael Gerson: “But Christian influence is not expressed in the grasping struggle for legal rights or political standing. It is found in demonstrating the radical values of the incarnation: Identifying with the vulnerable and dependent. Living for others. Trusting that hope, in the end, is more powerful than cunning or coercion.”

Can Muslim lands learn to tolerate Christianity? by Michael Gerson: “Securing institutional respect for minority rights is particularly difficult in transitioning societies, as we’ve recently seen. But clinging to authoritarianism further hollows out civil society, making the results even more chaotic and dangerous when a dictator falls.”

Holocaust History, as Told by a Survivor by NY Times: “Survivors’ stories, like the ones Mr. Schwartz recently told at the Martinum Gymnasium in Emsdetten, are especially important for younger generations who feel increasingly detached from the crimes of their forebears, educators say. Firsthand accounts provide an emotional link to the atrocities that other forms of memorialization simply cannot duplicate.”

Paternity Leave: Why Dads Going Home With Baby is Awesome for All by Hillary Crosley: “Lengthy dual maternity and paternity leave is also helpful to women in the workplace because if both genders are coming home for baby, it reverses the idea that women are expendable and the only ones that can ‘afford’ maternity leave. Paternity leave also puts women on more equal footing at home and in the office because the maternity/paternity leave is no longer gendered, but rather just something that ‘parents’ do.”

Central African Republic needs international help by Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Omar Kabine Layama: “We believe the most effective way to stop the killing is for the swift authorization of a U.N. peacekeeping force, which would have the resources to adequately protect our civilians. The United Nations should urgently move to approve and dispatch such a force. U.S. support for this force will be vital.”

Savings and Internal Lending Communities in Rwanda by Kerry Weber, America: “In the Rugango Parish in the Butare diocese of Rwanda, approximately 30 youth and young adults between the ages of 10 and 25 participate in a Savings and Internal Lending Community, a program introduced by Catholic Relief Services.”

Community Healing and Reconciliation in Rwanda by Kerry Weber, America: “Between 2008-2012, Catholic Relief Services worked with the people of the Rugango Parish and the diocese to create a Community Healing and Reconciliation Program, which fostered discussion and forgiveness among people of the community.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

New Front in the Fight With Infant Mortality By Eduardo Porter: “Pregnant women, across the country and anywhere along the income spectrum, will for the first time have guaranteed access to health insurance offering a minimum standard of care that will help keep their babies alive.”

A Call to Moral Theologians: Biotechnology Needs More Attention by Brian Green, CMT: “Hurlbut’s overarching point of was the importance of moral reflection on our growing biotechnological power. Calling cloning and stem cells issues that have the genuine power to change the course of civilization, Hurlbut emphasized the importance of engaging these issues in the right way, because once a path is chosen we may effectively become locked in to the moral outcomes.”

High-School Sports Aren’t Killing Academics by Daniel H. Bowen and Collin Hitt: “Despite negative stereotypes about sports culture and Ripley’s presumption that academics and athletics are at odds with one another, we believe that the greater body of evidence shows that school-sponsored sports programs appear to benefit students. Successes on the playing field can carry over to the classroom and vice versa.”

Why Russia Is Growing More Xenophobic by Ilan Berman: “More and more, Russians from across the political spectrum are identifying with (and organizing around) a national identity tinged with racism.”

Lead Still Major Problem Worldwide by Kevin Clarke, America: “Even though lead poisoning is entirely preventable, lead exposure causes 143,000 deaths and 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Vatican Insider Interview with Bishop Robert W. McElroy: “The statements, the actions and the gestures of Pope Francis have illuminated the scandal of global poverty not with harshness, but with a gentleness of truth that stirs the conscience to recognize realities that one already knows, but prefers not to recognize.”

Don’t abandon the women of Afghanistan By Paula J. Dobriansky and Melanne S. Verveer: “The international community must work to ensure that women’s gains in recent years are protected and that Afghan women continue to make political and economic progress. Any future support for the country’s government must be explicitly tied to continued defense of equal rights and continued progress of female citizens.”

Remembering Genocide in Kigali by Kerry Weber: “Perhaps one of the most notable characteristics of the Kigali Memorial Centre is its simplicity: a small fountain; a stone courtyard; some gardens, with water fixtures flowing through them. And the long, brown slabs of brick marking the graves of 250,000 of the men, women and children who died in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.”

Vatican’s media adviser offers ‘Top 10′ ways to understand Pope Francis by Carol Glatz, CNS: “No matter how some media may want to spin it, Pope Francis won’t fit into the political categories of left or right, and he will challenge everyone with the truth of the Gospel, said the Vatican’s media adviser.”

When We Don’t Feel Like Loving Our ‘Loved Ones’ by Michael Wear: “In some areas of Christian culture, our vision of loving the stranger is expanding while our vision of loving those closest to us is restricting.”

Assad’s War of Starvation by John Kerry: “The world already knows that Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons, indiscriminate bombing, arbitrary detentions, rape, and torture against his own citizens. What is far less well known, and equally intolerable, is the systematic denial of medical assistance, food supplies, and other humanitarian aid to huge portions of the population. This denial of the most basic human rights must end before the war’s death toll — now surpassing 100,000 — reaches even more catastrophic levels.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Discrimination against pregnant workers has been rising, report says by Washington Post

“Thirty-five years after Congress passed a federal law to protect pregnant women from discrimination on the job, these workers are instead denied reasonable accommodations that other workers receive and often wind up losing income, benefits or their jobs or suffering pregnancy complications, according to a report released Tuesday.”

Extremism Rises Among Myanmar Buddhists by NY Times

“Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.”

Is Rand Paul’s Love of Ayn Rand a ‘Conspiracy’? by Jonathan Chait

“But the upshot is that I strongly dispute Friedersdorf’s premise that Rand’s theories are a variant of democracy, any more than Marx’s are. In fact, I find the existence of powerful elected officials who praise her theories every bit as disturbing to contemplate as elected officials who praise Marxism. Even if you take care to note some doctrinal differences with Rand, in my view we are talking about a demented, hateful cult leader and intellectual fraud. People who think she had a lot of really good ideas should not be anywhere near power.”

A Catholic Defense of Obamacare  by Morning’s Minion, Vox Nova

“I believe that the basic principles of Obamacare are aligned both with Catholic social teaching, and with best practices throughout the world. Again, the yardstick to judge healthcare policies must always be whether it delivers affordable healthcare to all. Obamacare, while not perfect, goes a long way in this direction. Pretty much every alternative proposal against Obamacare falls far short. And that should tell us everything we need to know.”

RIP, American Dream? Why It’s So Hard for the Poor to Get Ahead Today by Matthew O’Brien, The Atlantic

“Now, we like to think of ourselves as a classless society, but it isn’t true today. As the Brookings Institution has pointed out, America has turned into a place Horatio Alger would scarcely recognize: we have more inequality and less mobility than once-stratified Europe, particularly the Nordic countries. It’s what outgoing Council of Economic Advisers chief Alan Krueger has dubbed the “Great Gatsby Curve” — the more inequality there is, the less mobility there is. As Tim Noah put it, it’s harder to climb our social ladder when the rungs are further apart.  And it’s getting worse.”

No More Monkeys by Michael Downs

“My ‘daddy sabbatical’ has begun. After serving at a Jesuit high school for the past six years as a Social Justice teacher, I recently decided to take some time away from work and be more present to my two young children.”

A conversation with a newly ordained Washington priest by Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post

“My 20s were a tough time. You come out of going to school and you get a job and you’re living on your own, and there are no structures of developing community. You’re just out there. And I think a lot of people really suffer during that time. I know I did. I found the solution in a closer relationship with God. A lot of people turn to other gods, to put it bluntly, to heal that pain. I think that’s true especially in Washington, a city that’s so transient. I see that a lot. I think that one of the biggest things people suffer from today is loneliness.”

The Post-Cynical Christian by Jim Wallis

“But it’s time for action. It’s time for realistic, skeptical, but post-cynical Christians, who are willing to act because of their faith, along with others of deep moral conviction. It’s time to make the personal decisions that can change the world.”


More than a Day

This Mother’s Day, Americans will spend an estimated $21 billion to show their appreciation and love to the women who gave us the gift of life.  That breaks down to almost $170 for each consumer to say “Thank You!” in cards, flowers, brunch, and other gifts.

Moms certainly deserve the recognition, thanks, and praise.  But we should be better about doing this all year long.  And we should more consistently stand up for all the women in our lives, including others’ moms or  moms-to-be.

Robert and Sarah’s posts this past week highlight the denigrating images, messages, and pressures put on women today.  Robert cites the “real beauty” campaign by Dove.  And while Dove’s attempts to subvert dominant paradigms of unrealistic standards of beauty are laudable, Dove’s parent company, Unilever, runs ads with almost the opposite message for a different subsidiary, Axe (Axe soaps and scents seem to strip women of any brainpower or agency by depicting them as magnetically – and lustfully – drawn to any man who dons their product).  Ads like these make it hard to reverse trends that indicate women have one negative thought about their body every waking hour – and that as many as 97% of women have at least one negative body thought a day.

Maybe there’s more we can do for Mom – and other moms and moms-to-be – than send a card or some flowers once a year?

Cultural pressures and expectations are one thing.  When these degrading images start to shape us, they can lead to even worse objectification and exploitation.  Patriarchy of all kinds engenders a “rape culture” that stands idly by while pornography, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking (including that of women and children trafficked for sex) impact an increasing number of lives.

These are not subjects that are easy to discuss.  Yet if we are going to honor Mom, we should move beyond words and gestures of gratitude.  We need to confront the realities of sin, both personal and social, that degrade moms and all other women and girls across our country and all over the globe.

This means addressing the fact that 40 million Americans watch porn regularly, including 70% of 18-24 males.  It requires that we acknowledge porn is so pervasive that it accounts for 35% of all internet downloads, is exposed to children on average by age 11, and that Sunday is the most popular day of the week for watching porn.  If ever there was a day to abstain, let’s hope it would be Mother’s Day.  Not only out of respect for Mom, or sisters and daughters who may one day become moms, but to girlfriends and spouses, since such widespread viewing is being linked to growing trends in sexual dissatisfaction, infidelity, and divorce.

It means confronting the fact that even if we vow never to raise a hand to a woman in our house, 1 in 4 women will still experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.  The same ratio of college women are sexually assaulted, and the numbers are also disturbingly high among high school girls, reaching almost one in five.  It’s not enough to refuse to be a perpetrator; we must be committed to being allies and advocates who are actively and steadfastly working to end violence against women.  One way to honor Mom is to end the culture of indifference that persists in our enlightened age that professes a commitment to liberty and equality.

It means standing with women and girls for human dignity and human rights.   It also means being more informed and responsible consumers, who refuse to buy clothing stitched by female garment workers in sweatshop factories like the one that collapsed and killed more than one thousand in Bangladesh a few weeks ago.  And boycotting produce picked by farmworker mothers that makes slavery a part of our food chain.

If we fail to acknowledge and atone for these sins, Mother’s Day risks becoming a Hallmark Holiday that ultimately rings hollow.  Moms and moms-to-be deserve better than that, especially since their love for us is anything but just-for-show.