IT TAKES only one shocking event to
reveal to the world the ordeals suffered by human beings who
struggle daily under oppression. That event can lay bare the stark
issues of injustice, violence, and fear that lie unresolved in the
lives of millions. Such is the story of 15-year-old Malala
Yousafzai, in Pakistan, who was shot in the head by the Taliban
because of her active support for women's education. She is now in
the UK to receive medical treatment.
At one level, it is the familiar issue
of the suppression of women - an issue that, at some time or
another, has faced almost every society on earth. At another level,
it is about the assertion of tyrants who believe that shooting a
young girl is a justifiable way of asserting their control and
Many of the journalists who have told
the story paid homage to Malala's fearlessness before the ruthless
atrocities of the Taliban. But that description does not really
seem apt; for people who are fearless rarely understand what it is
to be afraid. They are impervious to the fear that can destabilise
ordinary mortals. In contrast, this girl has known fear only too
well. She has spoken of it, described it, explained what it has
been like for her. Everything about her situation has made her want
to run, but she has stayed. It is not fearlessness but courage that
defines her tenacious resistance.
Courage is a very human quality. To
start with, it does not ignore danger. Since the age of 11, Malala
seems to have been acutely aware of perils that have surrounded
her, as she has lived consciously along the chasm of two
incompatible world-views. The world-view she inherited from her
father embraces human rights and education; it urges respect, hope,
peace, love, and freedom for women.
The world-view that she rejects
embraces the misuse of power, as well as torture and bloodshed. It
is driven by an ideology that dismisses freedom, hates the West,
and denigrates women. Few children would see the gulf so clearly.
Even fewer would have the enormous courage to face the implications
of choosing to resist the powerful.
But courage lives with vulnerability.
Malala had nothing to protect her as she spoke out against what she
had witnessed, as she asserted her desire to be educated, and
travelled to the school that had been banned. No armed bodyguards
surrounded her as she left her home or boarded the bus. The images
splashed across our screens and newspapers illustrated her
vulnerability - the openness of her young face, the blood-soaked
clothing on her body. In facing vulnerability, she shared truth,
and drew us into her struggles.
Courage also reveals the true nature
of evil, highlighting for us all the cowardice of her assailants,
their hatred, their brutality. Their faces were hidden. Yet vicious
cruelty can never bear good fruit. Whatever just cause these men
thought they were fighting, whatever power they thought they
wielded, the courage of this child has exposed them as cowardly
bullies. A Pakistani satirist, Nadeem Paracha, summed it up
perfectly: "Come on, brothers, be real men. Kill a schoolgirl."
For me, this story reflects not the
power of Western liberalism, but the truths of the Christian faith.
Vulnerability and courage are at its very core. Jesus incarnates
them. It was not fearlessness that he exhibited at Gethsemane the
night before he died, but naked terror, as he contemplated what lay
We may never know what courage Christ
needed for our salvation. But when we see the best of human bravery
exhibited in the life of a defenceless young Pakistani girl, we
begin to understand its power.
Dr Elaine Storkey is President of