Peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of fear, says Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was recently shot in the head by the Taliban. In a recent speech, Malala (profiled in the video above) described the threat of Islamist fundamentalists in the Swat Valley in which she agitates for change, and insists that “people win their rights only when they struggle to achieve them.”
I shall begin by describing the situation in Swat. We have seen the worst over there. Schools were destroyed, the girls were barred from education and even flogged. People were slaughtered at Green Chowk.
The circumstances made people shiver. Amid bomb blasts we lost our peace. The girl students were scared of going to schools. We had to flee our homes to save our lives. We could only return after the [military] operation that normalized the situation. The girls are now back in school. The shops have resumed business including the CD shops. Everything thing is fine now. Was that easy to leave homes when things turned violent and returned after they cooled down?
The only factor that brought normalcy (in Swat) was the struggle of the people. Had people failed to raise their voice, Swat would have been another Waziristan. Girls and senior citizens of Swat joined hands with others and fought for their rights. People rendered sacrifices to restore peace in Swat. People win their rights only when they struggle to achieve them. And, in Swat, our rights were usurped. The right of education. The right of freedom. We were not free to express ourselves. We lost our freedom and they imposed their will on us. It was our effort and endeavor that extricated us from the crisis.
Fellows, great nations learn from the history. The dilemma of Swat is now part of history and we pledge to learn from it, because if we don’t, we would never accomplish our goal. What have I learnt from the circumstances is that just one voice and one movement is strong enough against the groups which usurp the rights of the people. If they are armed with guns, you have the weapon of pen and power of words to defeat them. Secondly, we complain too much. We believe the system (of governance) in Pakistan is flawed altogether. Nothing is normal. We need to revamp the system instead of complaining too much. We need to correct ourselves to improve the circumstances. We know what we can do to turn things around by exercising our rights. But most of the time we remain silent.
Don’t you realize how bad it is to destroy schools? Don’t you agree confining women to home is so wrong? Everyone knows, but seldom stands up. We know what our rights are. We can differentiate between good and evil. Still we don’t speak out. We don’t tolerate each other.
If we want to nurture a generation that is tolerant enough to coexist with the people of opposite ideas, we must revamp our curriculum to fulfill this need. Only by doing this they would be able to tolerate, for example, a fellow from other faith or have love for other countries. While we start understanding the importance of peace we would let them know that strongest weapon in the world is a Pen – not a gun, tank or a helicopter.
There was a recent incident in Swat wherein a 12-year old girl was exchanged to compensate for crime committed by her brother. Backed by her father, the girl stood against that decision. She went to the court and saved herself from the darkness of injustices. We must have more youngsters like her. We must inform them about their fundamental rights, failing to which the new generation would give-in to the existing cultural taboos and obsolete social norms.
We create culture and formulate laws. It was not a God’s decree to exchange girls in compensate. Why can’t we change which is neither a holy decree nor written in any holy scripture? We are entitled to make laws and empowered to change them. The most important thing to do is to cleanse our culture and traditions from all the negativities which exist even today. We are the architect of our culture so we shall be entitled to change it.
We need an education system that could make people successful because we have seen in the past the Ph.D. or Master Degree holders were clueless about the purpose of their life. They only think of themselves. They only think of earning money, amassing wealth for their children, having luxurious cars and sprawling bungalows. They are not worried about the future of the son of their servant. Instead of being self-centered, we should follow our religion which says: “The better are those who help their fellow-beings.”
Until we let others live in peace and comfort, we would never be able to live like that. The reason why we are far away from peace and living in peril is that we are not letting others live in peace. Peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of fear. And the peace cannot prevail until we get rid of fear. In order to reach this destination we must choose the path of Asma Jehangir, Tahira Abdullah, Samar Minallah and Malala Yosafzai. No one can do it single-handedly. To get the country out of crisis, we must act together.
In the end I would like to recognize that my father supported me wholeheartedly when I was raising my voice and fighting for my rights. Hundreds of talented and passionate girls from Swat failed to succeed because they were restricted by their parents and brothers. And this is still happening. The way my father supported me I can’t express my gratitude. I wish every girl has a father like mine.
God willing, we would change things around once we start thinking positively and passionately. God willing, we would succeed.
This is an extract from Malala Yousafzai’s speech conference organized by Pakistan’s Center for Civic Education in Islamabad on September 15, 2012.