Author: Henry Dickmeyer
As 15 year-old Malala Yousafzai recovers from an attempted assassination by a Taliban gunman, the world continues to pour their hearts out to the young education activist. “I Am Malala” t-shirts flood the youth Pakistani population. The country continues to hold vigils, write goodwill letters and submit their condolences to the Malala. The activist is a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher and a student to any and all who sympathize with her, with her saga sparking the debate surrounding education equity and anti-Taliban action. So where was this discussion during Monday night’s presidential debate?
Anti-extremism? Check. Educational opportunity? Check. Gender equity? Check. The reaction is precisely the realized American exceptionalism that tends to sink into our foreign policy goals: worldwide recognition of democratic ideals and the radicals who wish to counter that liberty. President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney covered Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, horses and bayonets; but Malala – the symbol for democracy’s novelty in the Middle East – was absent from the discussion.
The attempted assassination even sparked former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to launch a United Nations petition with the slogan, “I Am Malala.” In the activist’s name, the petition calls for three things: for Pakistan to provide education for every child, for all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls and for all 61 million uneducated children to be in school by the end of 2015.
Is this ambitious? Absolutely, considering the response to the Malala shooting by the Pakistani Taliban’s chief spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan was that she “is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity.” Malala is without a doubt the perfect target for the religious extremists, where her message, though simply common grassroots activism if it occurred in the U.S., is a threat to traditional Islamic practice. But her words seek to stretch beyond the breach of Islamic tradition for young women, beyond the Taliban’s suppression of women’s rights; it’s an effort to declare opportunity (not just education) an inalienable right.
If you take look over the four presidential debates this 2012 election season, a large chuck of issues were almost completely sidetracked. Birth control received an undeserved lack of attention, climate change was rendered unmentioned between the words “coal” and “sustainability,” and same-sex marriage subtly turned into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” topic of conversation (or lack thereof). Even education reform, following one of the largest and most telling strikes in the long history of union quarrels, made an ironic yet brief appearance in Monday’s foreign policy debate.
Malala, meanwhile, was absent from the debate. Nowhere did the candidates mention her activism, her goals, her candor or any reactionary efforts by the Pakistani people. She embodies the age of democratization and its clash with barriers like religious fundamentalism and marginalization; and neither candidate took the opportunity during the foreign policy debate (or any of the preceding debates) to recognize Malala’s strive for ostensibly Wester, “American” ideals.
But if there is any indication of democracy’s presence in the Middle East, it’s the chill reverberating down Malala’s supporters seeing photos released of Malala in her hospital bed on last Friday afternoon: conscious, eyes wide open and hugging a white teddy bear with a pink ribbon around its neck. CNN reported last Friday that she’s improving but “not out of the woods,” able to stand up and communicate freely. If she loses her fight, she’s a martyr; and if she lives, she’s the ubiquitously renowned living, breathing poster child for a universal opportunity.
Henry Dickmeyer is an undeclared sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]
This article has been archived, for more requests please contact us via the support system.