“I am sad watching my uniform, school bag and geometry box,” wrote Malala Yousafzai in a February 8, 2009 diary entry published by BBC Urdu. “I felt hurt on opening my wardrobe and seeing my uniform, school bag and geometry box. Boys’ schools are opening tomorrow. But the Taliban have banned girls’ education.”
According to the latest reports, Malala Yousafzai is still unconscious. The Taliban shot this 14-year-old Pakistani student yesterday because…
Why did the Taliban shoot a 14-year-old girl? I cannot accept that compassion engenders hatred and violence. I do not believe that a causal relationship exists between Malala Yousafzai’s courage and the Taliban’s cowardice. I humbly reject an explanation that identifies “advocating for girls’ education” as the precursor to “a Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking children home from school and shot her in the head and neck.”
A man targeted and shot a child. That is the actus reus. To prosecute the crime, mens rea, or the guilty mind, would require exploration and evaluation. But the world is not a courtroom. Even absent this truth, the courtroom’s virtues—evaluation, exploration, prosecution, explanation—are woefully inadequate. Some acts of evil yield only questions. A man targeted and shot a child.
Statistics numb the effect of those words. UNICEF estimates that between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experience violence annually. One billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development. 101 million children are not attending primary school; more than half are girls. Youth literacy among young men is 1.2 times higher than among women in the least developed countries.
While statistics reveal the scope of the human rights abuses and inexplicable tragedies demand impossible answers, the courage and compassion of children like Malala Yousafzai compel us to honour their example.
During the Senate Question Period last Tuesday, I asked the Leader in the Government about the status of women and girls around the world, and how Canada plans to promote the universal recognition of human rights. Under the leadership of Foreign Affairs minister John Baird, Canada has declared its intention to protect fundamental human rights around the world. Now Canada must leverage a nuanced diplomacy, generous funding, and a strategic foreign policy to apply our values and realize our goals. As retired diplomat Daniel Livermore wrote at the Centre for International Policy Studies blog recently, “No matter how virtuous it sounds, a human rights policy can’t stand on its own.”
More potent than the sadness we feel in the aftermath of violence, Malala Yousafzai’s courage inspires hope and demands active compassion. We must insist upon policies that will facilitate that education for all. We must harness political will and empower countries, communities, schools, teachers, children, and girls to learn. Malala Yousafzai is still unconscious; we must take up the torch.
“And what will explain to you what the steep path is? It is the freeing of a slave from bondage; or the giving of food in a day of famine to an orphan relative, or to a needy in distress. Then will he be of those who believe, enjoin fortitude and encourage kindness and compassion” (The Quran, 90: 12-17).