Dear Malala Yousafzai,
I am fortunate, to an extent I can’t possibly comprehend, to live in a country where I, as a girl, have been told I can do anything and be anyone. I am even more fortunate to be equipped with the tools to do so through an education.
Your memoir, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, opened my eyes to how lucky I am, inspired me, and revealed the unfortunate presence of xenophobia and Western imperialism in my country, the United States.
I read your memoir shortly after the horrific terrorist attacks on Paris. The attacks and their implications immediately made headlines. Social media showed their solidarity with Paris with #PrayforParis and a logo was created. Buildings across the world lighted up in the colors of the Paris flag. The outpouring of support is one of the moments that makes you proud to be a part of humanity after despairing why and how something so unfathomably despicable could occur.
The day before, a similar attack occurred in Beirut, Lebanon killing 41 people. Where were our prayers? Our hashtags? Our logos?
We didn't even think about it. The Western world has developed a sense of imperialism. We our numb to the suffering in other countries-until it’s one of our fellow Western comrades.
Malala, you touch on this unfortunate truth in your memoir when you say “Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human”. The United States is not evil-the very large majority of the people of my country believe wholeheartedly terrorism shouldn’t exist and that all girls should receive an education. You explain how the opposite perspective is working against you; many in Pakistan believe you to be a “puppet of the West”. It seems our world has split into Eastern and Western, with neither truly being affected by the other and both less than kind to'the other. This is ridiculous and unacceptable-as you point out, we are all humans.
But despite that it is seemingly unrepairable as it is tragic, you also offer hope Malala. “If one man can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it”? My country may be suffering from a terrible case of xenophobia, but I believe with education this can be changed just as I believe one day girls everywhere will receive the education they deserve.
You explained to me how many of your country’s problems could be solved by education when you reiterate your Father’s beliefs: “He believed that lack of education was the root of all of Pakistan’s problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected”.
My country constantly talks of war, especially in the Middle East. We believe we can fix things with guns, but Malala you showed me how it is not a weapon that will change the world, but education. The world need to help Pakistan and other countries ensure education for their girls. And then, just as importantly, the world needs to help Western countries learn to accept and respect that while your country Pakistan, and others, may be different in culture, they are not less than a Western country. You taught me what I believe every Westerner needs to know: that Islam is not supposed to be crushing of women. True Islam, as you explain, is not like this whatsoever. It is a religion full of love, with admittedly different cultural values then the West is used to. But that is not a bad thing. It is our differences that make a diverse world so worth living in. The Western countries need to be conscientious that what the Taliban and other extremist groups perpetuate is not what people like you, Malala, believe.
As you say, Malala, “If people were silent nothing would change”. While I may not be an world-renown activist such as yourself, you have educated me and inspired me to be an activist in my own regard, albeit small: because you have educated me, I can educate those I know. And, hopefully, like a candle lighting another candle until the flame is passed and no darkness remains, slowly, xenophobia can loosen its ugly grasp.
I want to thank you for writing a book that has taught me-and so many others-about Islam and education. You inspire me, Malala, for your courage to speak out when everyone else was silent, and how you are still speaking when the Taliban tried to silence you. You encourage me to see the world differently and do my part. After all, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
Hoping to one day live in a world where every girl is educated,