Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl who was wounded in a gun attack, is seen in Swat Valley, northwest Pakistan, in this undated file photo. (REUTERS/Hazart Ali Bacha files)
Anytime all the leaders of federal political parties in Canada agree on an issue and act as one, it’s both unusual and newsworthy.
Yet that’s what Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Opposition leader Tom Mulcair, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae and Green Party’s Elizabeth May have done when they independently signed a petition to nominate 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala is one of the symbolic individuals that periodically capture the attention of the world, and become an influence that far exceeds expectations.
Much credit goes to Tarek Fatah, who started the petition to nominate Malala for the peace prize — an idea that has spread like wildfire around the world.
By now everyone must know that she’s the young Pakistani schoolgirl who took it upon herself to argue and protest for the rights of girls to get an education in a part of the world where such lobbying can be lethal.
She was shot in the head by a masked Taliban gunman who boarded her school bus and demanded: “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up or I will shoot you all.”
He fired three shots, one hitting her in the head. Two other girls were wounded. Malala was flown to Britain and is recovering in hospital.
Even before the shooting, Malala had both fame and notoriety. As an 11-year-old she wrote a regular blog for the BBC about her life, and the life of girls like her in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled region of Swat.
In her blog she told of girls being warned not to attend school which a few, like her, did anyway. Girls were advised not to wear school uniforms which would identify them as a students, and invite Taliban reprisals.
Finally, not to wear colourful clothes because that also offended Taliban sensitivities. Through it all, she persevered, stood up for herself and other girls. All the time knowing her life was in danger.
Significantly, in Pakistan where violence against women and honour killings prevail, the attack on Malala touched a chord that roused the nation. Ordinary people are outraged, and for the first time there’s the beginning of a country-wide protest on behalf of Malala — and for the right of women to be educated.
Around the world, tens of thousands of people have signed petitions to honour her with a Nobel Peace Prize. Although the prize is often awarded for political purposes, bestowing it on Malala would be both political and humanitarian.
It would be far more supportive of “peace” within the framework of the barbaric Shariah law, than some who’ve received the award.
As a symbolic figure, a parallel that comes to mind is Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who lived for 15 years under house arrest after her party (National League for Democracy) seemed to have won the 1990 general election. Confined, she became an international symbol. Malala too.
Aung San Suu Kyi is an honourary Canadian citizen. Her very existence was inspiring — just as is Malala’s courage and persistence inspires.
Malala’s father, Ziauddin, runs a private school. Of his daughter, he says: “Malala stands for human dignity, tolerance and pluralism. She had drawn a line between barbarity and civilization. Hers is the voice of the people of Pakistan, and the downtrodden and deprived children of the world.”
Deadline for Nobel Peace Prize nominations is February, with the Laureate announced in October. Names of nominees are usually kept secret, but Malala’s case is so unusual, that one hopes the Norwegian Nobel committee does the right thing.