Malala Yousafzai isn’t the first to proclaim the pen mightier than the sword, but she is probably the only teenager to emerge defiant after taking a bullet for the right of literacy.
The Pakistani girl shot in the head by Taliban gunmen nine months ago for defying their ban on girls’ education celebrated her 16th birthday Friday with an uplifting appeal for universal education in a speech to more than 1,000 young delegates to the United Nations.
“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons,” declared the diminutive teen from the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly forum, given over to the youthful would-be diplomats gathered to mark the first “Malala Day.”
Yousafzai, cloaked in a pink, traditional shalwar kameez and a white shawl that belonged to slain Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, thanked God -- before whom, she said, “all are equal.”
She praised the thousands of strangers and world leaders who have sent her good wishes and the doctors in her homeland and in Britain who helped her recover from the attack. Gunmen boarded her school bus near her hometown of Mingora on Oct. 9, looking for the defiant teen, and shot her repeatedly in the head in an incident that shocked the civilized world and raised consciousness about the plight of girls in fundamentalist Islamic societies.
“The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens,” she said in the address webcast by the United Nations. “The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women.”
Still, she said, she bore no hatred of her attackers, having learned compassion from the models of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“This is what my soul is telling me: Be peaceful and love everyone,” she said, casting confident glances over her audience and exhibiting little evidence of lingering injury beyond a slow-opening left eyelid.
“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions,” she said. But all that has changed, she said, is that “weakness, fear and hopelessness died and courage was born.”
The events dedicated to the aim of “education for all” coincided with release of a report by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on schooling deficits. It noted that the number of primary-school-age children not accorded an education dropped from 60 million to 57 million over the three years up to 2011 but that 50% of the children in conflict-wracked regions of the world aren't getting educated.
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