What 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai is teaching the world
“Don’t worry, Baba. I am going to be fine and victory will be ours.”
According to a Monitor report Thursday, these were the words spoken by 14-year-old peace activist Malala Yousafzai to her father shortly after she was shot in the head by Taliban extremists in Pakistan.
In truth, they were words spoken for the entire world.
The news that a gunman stepped onto a bus full of schoolgirls, picked out the one who had become an international symbol of hope and peace, and shot her twice, leaving her in critical condition, can shake one’s faith in the power of goodness to its core. It is, quite simply, one of the most despicable acts of which humanity would seem capable.
But it did not shake Malala, nor should it shake us.
To the material world, the events in the Swat Valley of Pakistan would seem to be evidence of evil attacking good and perhaps triumphing for a season. It seems certain, however, that Malala at least caught a glimpse of the truth that probes beyond human sense to the heart of the matter. And it is this: Her defiance against the claim of evil to have control over her – to keep from the girls of Pakistan a better life, to intimidate them into silence, or to take from the purity of her faith any sense of “victory” – is inestimably more powerful than any extremist’s bullet.
And the Taliban know it.
Throughout all time, the martyr’s role has been to rouse a dormant sense of love and justice among the fearful or indifferent. In Pakistan, the Taliban have in many respects been tolerated. They have taken the cloak of piety with their long beards and prayers. They have taken the cloak of brotherhood with their Pashtun ways. They have taken the cloak of nationalism with their jihad against the interests of India and the West.
But Malala saw through these lies. And because of her, they have now been exposed for all Pakistan to see, perhaps for the first time.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, delved deeply into the modes of evil in order to understand how it could seem to have such power if, as the first letter of John in the Bible says, “God is love” (I John 4:8). What she found is that evil cannot withstand goodness. If it is once seen for what it is, it is universally condemned by the good in our hearts – so it lies, deceives, and commits hypocrisies in its desire to remain hidden. “The wisdom of a serpent is to hide itself,” Mrs. Eddy says (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 210).
And this is the blessing that Malala has shown us: Her goodness has exposed the evil – has made it so plain to the world that none but the most morally confused can offer any defense. Eddy calls this confusion “moral idiocy” and says of it: “Without a sense of one’s oft-repeated violations of divine law, the individual may become morally blind, and this deplorable mental state is moral idiocy” (“Miscellaneous Writings,” p. 107).
Where can it hide now? To all right-thinking people, it cannot. As a Monitor correspondent, I have been to Pakistan. Understandably, the Pakistanis are afraid of the convulsions tearing their country, but they are also proud, and they are fierce in their defense of justice. I believe Malala saw these noble qualities in her countrymen and women, too, and that their strength is reflected in her own. From this viewpoint, there is no opportunity for anything but victory.
The world may see Pakistan as a stumbling nation burdened by its own mistakes as well as those of erstwhile allies. But what has Malala shown us – and her own people? That they are uniquely suited to expose in the most effective way the evil that would beset them. Before she was shot, perhaps Pakistan had only paid lip service to her example. Now, it is an unquenchable beacon to the nation.
But will Malala herself be fine, as she said? Again, the mortal viewpoint is not the most incisive one. The night before Jesus was tortured and crucified – an event he foresaw – he told his disciples: “My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27).
For those looking beyond the world picture, the world picture is not the standard of comfort. Jesus was sustained through his ordeal – indeed he gained immeasurably in grace through it. Through his own tribulations, Peter learned that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). In allowing that revelation to gain its rightful spiritual momentum, we can say with Eddy: “The good cannot lose their God, their help in times of trouble” (“Miscellaneous Writings,” p. 10).
Has one act of terror shown the impotence of goodness? No. A more spiritual view shows error exposed and the method for its complete destruction made plain, as well as a precious child forever safe in her own purity and goodness.