CIVIL RIGHTS CHAMPION: Malala Yousafzai in Islamabad, Pakistan, on March 8, 2012. Yousafzai, won international praise for advocating girls’ education despite Taliban threats. She was shot and wounded by Taliban gunmen in Swat on Oct. 9. (Photo: T. Mughal/Newscom)
It is easy to imagine Malala Yousafzai gracing the cover of TIME magazine as its Person of the Year. Her soft brown eyes peek at us from pictures that have surfaced from the ripples of a sudden plunge into the spotlight. Her story is so dramatic, so much the essence of the human rights struggle that the it continues to fascinate and inspire worldwide. Her hair, side-parted and modestly covered, Miss Yousafzai demonstrates a hunger for peace well beyond her 14 years. In 2011, she was awarded the National Peace Award by the Government of Pakistan for her courage in seeking restoration of peace and education services. In a short span of time, this tiny girl has become a towering figure in her pursuit of justice for herself and 50,000 other schoolgirls who lost the right to education in their Pakistani communities.
Millions more are now familiar with Miss Yousafzai, who was forced off of her school bus, shot in the head, and critically wounded along with two other young schoolgirls at the hands of the Taliban. She continues to heal in the safety of a UK hospital, the government and the world watching over her as if she were the little sister of us all.
Since 2009, when Miss Yousafzai was a mere tween in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, the hope for education has burned in her heart. While other girls in freer societies tweeted their obsessions with fashion and musical heart throbs, Miss Yousafzai dodged daily threats to become internationally known for her blog that promoted the restoration of the education stolen from her and her classmates.
Her opponents brazenly confessed planning her demise for at least a year. This time they were mercifully denied satisfaction, though they threaten further attempts will be made until her voice is silenced. With ironic justice, the public magnification of her courage has likewise magnified her opponent’s cowardice, exposing grown men who will go to such lengths to snuff out any beacon of light that pierces the darkness of their own souls.
Nothing New Under the Sun
As a Christian woman, when I think of the social conditions that were in place when Christ walked the earth, I am forced to see how little a young girl’s plight has changed in many areas of the world. Centuries may have passed, but the fundamental flaws in our human character remain the same, and they are often unavoidably woven into the fabric of our societies, both free and restricted.
MARCHING FOR MALALA: Pakistani students carry placards with photographs of Malala Yousafzai during an Oct. 16 protest in Lahore, Pakistan, against the assassination attempt by the Taliban on Malala. (Photo: Rana Irfan Ali/Newscom)
Knowing this, Christ’s counter-cultural treatment of women stands out in relief. In the first-century Roman Empire, a woman held very little sway on matters political or civil; their social plight two thousand years ago foreshadows the Taliban’s restrictions on a woman’s movements today, be they physical, psychological, political or intellectual.
Converse to these gaping holes in our societal fabric, the Bible’s high esteem for women and girls is recorded throughout its narrative. Indeed, many accounts in the Gospels tell us that Christ’s constant consideration of women was radical indeed for its day — His high view of women is perhaps best displayed and recorded in Luke 24 in the first witness of His resurrection and victory over hell, death and the grave; His greatest triumph was first revealed to a group of women (Luke 24:1-12).
These women gathered at his empty tomb were entrusted with the first knowledge of the risen Savior; an affirmation of God’s high estimation of the word, witness and worth of a woman (Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-10). There is one sole Entity who could first assess, and then restore a woman’s social worth properly as beings who bear the very image of God; that is the Creator of that image, God, Himself (Genesis 1:26-31). These women were divinely commissioned to tell His disciples that Christ had risen, and the news of Hope for all humanity began to spread. “Go, tell the others what you have seen….” What a humbling honor, indeed, to be charged with bearing what has become a life-altering message for so many — including myself.
Today, Miss Yousafzai’s story is known worldwide; it was a proverbial “shot heard ’round the world.” It’s doubtful that life for this young woman will ever be the same, yet she and her family have accomplished more as ordinary citizens than many politicians have been able to do collectively. From her tormentor’s perspective, she must seem as one of the foolish things of the world that has confounded the self-proclaimed “wise.” In her courage, she has shown wisdom that they cannot comprehend. A mere and simple girl, who should have been easily silenced, now heals from her wounds with the protection of the world. She stands defiant in her innocence, large in the power of her perceived weakness.
I salute the courage of Miss Yousafzai and her classmates; they have stirred a passion in the world, and made us consider and confront our own humanity. May they be victorious in their quest not only for education and a just society, but also in their larger quest for recognition and in understanding the fullness of their humanity. May they also receive the full dignity and significance that is their right by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and may they come to know the One in whose majestic image they are made.
CRIMINAL OR MISUNDERSTOOD?: Even in death, Gadhafi has his defenders.
In the aftermath of his death, some are wondering whether the late Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi will be remembered as a martyr instead of a mad tyrant.
Fellow dictator Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, for instance, expressed anger over the death of his friend. “They assassinated him. It is another outrage,” he told reporters. “We shall remember Gadhafi our whole lives as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr.”
Some have pointed to the free health care and subsidized housing in Libya as evidence of Gadhafi’s compassion, as well as his financial support of other African nations. “Mr. Gaddafi was a dictator, but he was a benevolent dictator, whether you like or dislike him,” said French journalist and blogger Moe Seager. “And he gave millions to black African health, educational and agricultural projects.”
But in addition to his support of impoverished nations, the Libyan leader was also known for funding a variety of notorious outfits. In fact, his government was implicated in the financing of many controversial militant groups, including several associated with terrorism.
Earlier this year, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan defended his friend Gadhafi and criticized President Obama and the United States for supporting the Libyan rebels. “It is a terrible thing for me to hear my brother called all these ugly and filthy names when I can’t recognize him as that.”
With a controversial friend like Farrakhan as an advocate, it probably isn’t a total shock to hear some African Americans sympathizing with Gadhafi’s plight and speculating about conspiracy theories in the wake of his death. In the comments section at the black news site NewsOne.com, for instance, one reader declares, “Any Black person who celebrates the ‘death’ of Muammar Gaddafi has to be a product of western media propaganda.” He goes on to argue that Gadhafi was a strong benefactor of other African nations, and concludes by implying that Gadhafi’s ouster and death were the result of a CIA plot.
It’s easy for most of us to take for granted that Gadhafi was an international criminal whose multitude of vicious sins had finally caught up to him. But it’s interesting to note that not all Americans subscribe to that view.
And so, the question lingers: Was Gadhafi a misunderstood revolutionary or a cruel tyrant? The smart money is on the latter, but your answer most likely depends on your personal view of the media, international relations, and America’s role in the world.
UNDER ARREST: Terror suspect Anders Breivik (left) is taken away by police in Oslo after the Friday bombing and shooting rampage that took as many as 76 lives. Photo: Newscom.
What a tragic irony it is, Mark Steyn implies at National Review, that racist, Muslim-hating terrorist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 76 of his fellow Norwegians in pursuit of cultural and racial purity.
If a blonde blue-eyed Aryan Scandinavian kills dozens of other blonde blue-eyed Aryan Scandinavians, that’s now an “Islamophobic” mass murder? As far as we know, not a single Muslim was among the victims. Islamophobia seems an eccentric perspective to apply to this atrocity, and comes close to making the actual dead mere bit players in their own murder.
But Steyn’s attempt to divorce the killer’s action from his motives rings hollow. At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner examines what drove the killer.
Breivik claims to protect a “pure” Nordic race, and apparently sees himself as launching a modern-day crusade … In the “Conservative Revolution” section of [Breivik’s] manifesto he lays out his views on “Solutions to prevent the extinction of the Nordic tribes and for implementation of conservative principles,” and opposition to “race-mixing” (in which he also decries what he calls “race-mixing,” either through marriage or adoption, by Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, to name a few). …
He “offers clues as to why he targeted fellow Norwegians, even though he claims to love his “Nordic tribe,” and in particular government buildings and the young people he massacred at the youth camp. … 90% of the category A and B traitors in my own country, Norway, are Nordic, Christian category A and B traitors.
At CNN’s Belief Blog, Dan Gilgoff unpacks why the “Christian Fundamentalist” label that was bandied about by media outlets over the weekend is inaccurate. “From what the 1,500-page manifesto says, Breivik appears to have been motivated more by an extreme loathing of European multiculturalism that has accompanied rapid immigration from the developing world, and of the European Union’s growing powers, than by Christianity,” said Gilgoff, who interviewed several scholars to make his point. Among them was Anders Romarheim, a fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. Romarheim told Gilgoff that Breivik used Christianity as a vehicle to assign religious moral weight to his political views. “I would say they are more anti-Islam than pro-Christian,” said Romarheim.
At the Washington Post’s On Faith blog, Mathew N. Schmalz, Professor of Religious Studies at College of the Holy Cross, argues that Breivik sees himself as a “cultural” rather than “religious” Christian.
Breivik calls himself a “cultural Christian.” Religious Christians, he observes, have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which he himself does not have. For Breivik, “Christendom” is a vehicle for preserving European self-identity and is not necessarily opposed to elements of “paganism” such as Breivik’s own “Odnistic/Norse” heritage. …
The Christian history that Breivik seeks to reenact is not the passion of Jesus Christ, but the narrative of the Crusades. … Although he wishes that Benedict XVI would call Christendom to crusade, Breivik argues that the Roman Pontiff has been too accommodating to Islam and has thus betrayed the Church and Europe as a whole. The new Crusade will thus have to be initiated outside the authority of decadent institutional churches….
Schmalz concludes that Breivik’s manifesto exposes “a dark side of Christendom as abstract fantasy and nightmarish nostalgia.”
In the comments section of her Get Religion post called “Guilt by Footnote Association,” journalist Mollie Hemingway debates Jeff Sharlet about whether or not the writers Breivik quotes bear some responsibility for his rampage.
Sharlet: “It’s silly to say that any writer is responsible for the actions of others — Breivik pulled the trigger, not Robert Spence — but it’s an oddly relativist argument to suggest that we don’t ponder the ingredients Breivik used to make his toxic stew. As the conservative saying goes, ‘ideas have consequences.’ ”
Hemingway: “I’m just saying that the argument needs to be made, not just asserted via guilt by association.”
At Slate, William Saletan takes the irresponsible rhetoric discussion one step further and asks anti-Muslim activists like Pam Geller (who led opposition to the Park 51 Islamic Center that is scheduled to be built in lower Manhatten) how it feels to have their own arguments turned back on them.
When the terrorist is a Christian—in his own words, a “Crusader” for “Christendom”—and when the preacher to whom he has been linked is you, you suddenly discover the injustice of group blame and guilt by association. The citations you didn’t create, the intermediaries you didn’t recognize, the transactions you didn’t know about, the violent interpretations you didn’t condone—these exonerating facts suddenly matter.
Saletan goes on to say he is tempted to blame Geller and “her ilk” for the attacks, but references the Qu’ran in concluding that “no one should be held responsible for another person’s sins.” He says this belief is the “moral core of the struggle against terrorism” and wishes activists like Geller would “show Muslims the same courtesy.”
Finally, in light of the fact that a lone gunman was able to shoot and kill 68 people unimpeded, The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf asks if we need to “reburden” ourselves with the responsibility to confront mass murderers, as the victims of 9/11 Flight 93, Columbine, and Virginia Tech did in the midst of terror. Said Friedersdorf:
“We forget. That there isn’t always someone to call. That sometimes we’re confronted by horrors even if we didn’t volunteer for them. That we each therefore bear ultimate responsibility for defending ourselves and our communities. It is our inescapable burden.”
What do you think? Does the news that this mass murderer rooted his evil in Christianity rather than Islam change the way you think about labeling terrorists? Should we, as Saletan argues from the Qu’ran, hold only individuals responsible for their actions and, as the Bible instructs, do unto others as we would have them do unto us? Do we bear the responsibility to act in the face of terror, as Friedersdorf argues, or does turning the other cheek lead to peace?
A brief but provocative commentary over at NewsOne.com raises new questions about the tragic case of Amy Bishop, the troubled biology professor who opened fire on her University of Alabama colleagues last week after being denied tenure.