Before stating my reasons that Malala Yousafzai should have won the Nobel Peace Prize – I extend congratulations to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for winning the prize for the work they do in attempting to limit and destroy chemical weapons in the world. In this time of ongoing violence and the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians in Syria – calling attention to the work done to ban such weapons globally is a noteworthy and daunting task. To win the Nobel Peace Prize will certainly call more attention to this ongoing challenge and will hopefully deter their future use. In this regard I can see why the OPCW won the prize. However, I believe Malala deserves it more than the OPCW.
Here are my reasons why:
1. Malala’s story is unique, compelling, and appeals to the human spirit.
Malala stood up to her oppressors. She was shot for being outspoken. She miraculously recovered and now has become an international sensation. She is genuine, humble and persistent. She asks for nothing more than each person (male or female) having the opportunity to pursue an education. She reminds me how we take for granted the opportunities we have in the United States; including free speech and access to ideas. She calls me out on how inadequate and inaccessible a world-class education is for many of our own people here. It is a reminder how many opportunities we waste to pursue not only excellence but basic comprehension because our will (individual and corporate) is so easily deterred. Malala is an inspiration to not let “no” be a final answer; that to listen, learn and comprehend is our only path to discernment and wisdom – and that the divisive tactics of fear and misdirection will only lead to our demise.
2. Malala is a voice for women in any culture.
Equality should always be a given among all of God’s children, and yet we divide and exclude as a common human pursuit of power, manipulation and influence. It takes women as well as men to affirm the voice and value of each person, and even in a flat world, a digital world, and a supposedly enlightened world we continue to belittle or dismiss one another for the pettiest of reasons – not the least of these are gender, ethnicity, age, religion, and the like. I belong to a Facebook Group of several thousand clergy of our denomination. An experiment was attempted a week ago as the men stepped back from the ongoing conversation on that page for a 24 hour period. I learned three things from that experience – 1. Even those who are highly trained and qualified can feel intimidated and dismissed. 2. There were a few people of both genders (and probably always will be) who attempted to usurp that process belittling all those – and in particular several women who participated in it. 3. It made me realize when many people are not part of the conversation at all how diminished it feels. It made me think about how exclusive a number of our conversations are and how we let others dominate the discussion disproportionately. Some people walked away from the group as a result. I wonder how much this happens in just about any setting – from families, to workplaces and houses of worship. Who do we let control the conversation rather than expressing ourselves? Who do we dismiss as unimportant? How might we lead in a way – that continues to keep focus and the task at hand, but also invites others into the process? Malala’s uncompromising demand to be at the table with something to offer to the dialogue should inspire us all to both welcome others as well as find our own voice and contribute.
3. Malala is a devout Muslim, and she is not a terrorist.
For the last several decades the Western image of Muslims has been terrorism. Since 9/11/2001 it has been an almost uniform typecast. We should acknowledge that religious extremism is an ongoing cause of violence throughout the world, but it is not exclusively Islam we have to blame. Before we get emotional about this we must acknowledge that throughout history Christianity has had a history of violence, just as Islam has had a history of violence. Often it is against each other. Not all Muslims are terrorists. It may take a lot of convincing for us as a culture to take notice of that truth. Malala is a person of faith, a person of wisdom and strength, and she is a peacemaker. Her belief that education is the highest value we can share to bring people together is an inspiration, and the face of a religion different from my own I wish to see. This does not undo the many horrible things people have done in the name of religion – whatever that religion is – but it is a reminder – you can be a person of goodwill, understanding and hope. In our increasingly growing xenophobic culture she is not only a Muslim, but a fellow human being I would like to know.
4. The OPCW is doing its job; Malala faced death and triumphed.
I am thankful the OPCW exists. Before the OPCW won the Nobel Prize I would not have been able to tell you much about them. I still don’t know that much. I hope they use their capital and the clout of winning this award to continue to make a difference in limiting chemical weapon stockpiles and potential future use on populations. However, they don’t inspire me or call me to action. There is not a human face to their organization I would recongnize if she or he spoke in a public forum. This is the clear difference between the OPCW and Malala. Hers is a human story that compels me to want to get her book, read more of her story and get involved. If the Nobel Peace Prize is more than something for a trophy case and meant to inspire others to work for peace in their lives – I believe the committee got it wrong this time. Malala Yousafzai is now a household name and her story compels me to do some self-reflection on things I may have (even inadvertently) done and left undone.
5. Malala is only getting started.
For a person her age Malala has revealed not only personal strength that calls attention to a very real issue in the world, but she has also exhibited real poise and leadership. Her gunshot wound and recovery is not the last we will hear of Malala Yousafzai. As she matures into adulthood, I foresee her continuing to be an advocate for women’s rights, education and peace in the world. Perhaps in due time she can still be given recognition for an already impressive legacy. I think history will remember this moment as a missed opportunity to celebrate an early chapter as she continues to lead, advocate, learn and share her story. Not winning the Nobel Prize however does not diminish at all the things she has gone through that have launched her upon the world stage. It will be a delight to keep watching her mature as we continue to learn from her.
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Psalm 34:11-14)
Link to I Am Malala
Check out her interview with Jon Stewart (16 mins):
Reposted on LivingLutheran.com – 10/18/2013