Many selections of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee have been controversial — often they are criticized as highly politicized attempts to direct public discourse, rather than recognize true achievements in promoting peace — and even this award had an apparent political message. The Committee Chairman said: “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”
There is something important in the fact that Yousafzai is the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, too. A 15-year-old girl who is threatened, bullied, and then shot by religious extremists would seem to be powerless, but Yousafzai proved that perceptions of power can be wrong. Individuals, young and old, can make a difference.
Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan for five years, was released from captivity by the Taliban over the weekend, in exchange for the release of five prisoners from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It’s also reasonable for Congress to examine the circumstances of the swap of Bergdahl for the Taliban prisoners. What assurances did the Administration give, and what did they receive? Was this situation one that was treated as an effort to free a POW, or was it more like negotiating to free a hostage? Did the Administration’s approach signal a change in American policy, or not? These are not empty, political questions; they are important, practical inquiries that are worth careful examination in a real world that unfortunately is full of terrorism and potential dangers. Here, too, however, it is important not to leap to conclusions. In a world of throwaway sound bites, this is an issue that cries out for careful, dispassionate consideration after all of the facts have been marshaled.
Yousafzai’s story reminds us of how different the world can be under repressive religious regimes. When she started a blog and advocated for education for Muslim girls in defiance of the edicts, the Taliban issued a death threat against her. Later a Taliban gunman attacked her on her school bus, and she was shot in the head and neck. She survived, went to Great Britain for brain surgery, and continues to be a strong voice for education even in the face of renewed Taliban threats.
Some people thought Yousafzai might win the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead the Prize went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. I have no doubt that the group, which has worked to eliminate chemical weapons, has performed important work — but no organization can ever have the impact of one individual standing resolute in the face of tyranny. Malala Yousafzai has single-handedly focused attention on the need for education and the plight of girls and young women under the Taliban and, by extension, in other places where religious edicts and despotic governments have repressed their rights and freedoms. We can only hope that her message and example will ultimately bring about essential social changes in the benighted regions of the world.
About the only thing that seems clear is that the United States should be very concerned about what is happening in Pakistan. When the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan, they provided a safe haven where terrorists could train, plot, and execute attacks. Their recent activities provide no basis for believing that they have changed their views or become more civilized. Terrorist groups already are apparently operating in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan where the Taliban is in ascendancy. What could those terrorists accomplish if the Taliban gained control of larger portions the country? After all, Pakistan differs from Afghanistan in at least one crucial respect — Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons. Would leaders who do not hesitate to ruthlessly flog women who are accused of violating a medieval code of conduct hesitate to use nuclear weapons?
Occasionally a single incident, such as the horrible flogging video described in this article and the negative public reaction to it, can be a turning point. Many people think, for example, that the TV images of peaceful black protesters being attacked by dogs and knocked down by high-powered fire hoses were crucial to convincing Americans outside of the Jim Crow South that federal civil rights legislation like the Voting Rights Act was desperately needed. If the public revulsion within Pakistan to this flogging incident and other Taliban excesses grows, it could help to move Pakistan and its people away from religious extremism, intolerance, and the Taliban. On the other hand, if the government ignores the incident or proves powerless to address it, the Taliban may be seen as immune from punishment for such excesses, and it will in turn grow more powerful as the everyday citizens in the areas controlled by the Taliban decide that submission and compliance are more sensible than defiance. The whole story of this particular incident has not yet been told.