NEW YORK: Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin were on Monday honoured at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum with the 2013 Reflections of Hope Award for their resilient leadership in support of women’s right to education.
“Today I have been given the Reflections of Hope Award, and it’s an honour for me. It’s not only an award. It’s hope. It’s more courage. It’s more strength,” Malala Yousafzai said in a video message to an impressive ceremony in Oklahoma City, according to media reports. “I hope that we all will work together, and we all will fight for the rights of girls. And the day will come when all the girls will go to school.”
The annual Reflections of Hope Award is given out by the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museums in honor of the 168 people who died in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
Ziauddin accepted the award on his daughter’s behalf during his first trip to the United States since the Taliban’s assassination attempt on Malala in October 2012.
“I’m proud that in this world of men, I’m one of the few fathers who is known for his daughter,” said Ziauddin. “I dedicate this prestigious award to all fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands who accept and respect their daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives as individuals equal to them.”
“We share the pain. We share the suffering,” he said. “We have tragedies like Boston every day.”
Ziauddin also discussed the daily challenges of life in Pakistan under the oppression of the Taliban that led to the attempted assassination of his daughter.
Those around the world stand in support of Malala’s fight for the right to education, with many young girls showing solidarity by carrying signs that read, ‘I am Malala.’
“Nobody in Pakistan raised any banner or any poster, ‘I am Taliban.’ The people of Pakistan reached the verdict that we are not from the Taliban. We have disowned them,” Ziauddin said. “We are [instead] standing with this small child for peace, for education…the Taliban is more afraid of books than bombs, believe me.”
He pleaded with the crowd Monday not to associate the terrorist organization with the Pakistani people or the Islamic faith.
“Let them not be associated with Islam,” Ziauddin said. “They have nothing to do with Islam. If we disown them, kindly don’t associate them with Islam.”
Yousafzai is the director of a school for girls he founded in Pakistan’s Swat region with the hopes of fostering a generation of female leadership. Before the attempt on her life, Malala was a student at the school.
Memorial Director Kari Watkins said the Yousafzais represented the same ideals that the memorial works to promote. They are examples of the damage that political violence causes, and how education is a key to overcoming violence and promoting understanding among different religious and political groups and other organizations.
The Yousafzais’ message is particularly strong because it carries hope in the midst of instability and political violence, Watkins said. That message fits well with the memorial’s mission, she said, and it also reminds westerners of the value of education.
“We take a lot of things for granted here — mainly education,” she said.
Malala first came to international attention when, at the age of 11, she wrote a blog for the BBC demanding education rights for Pakistani girls. She received death threats posted to her Facebook page, published in newspapers and slipped under her door.
Although Malala is still a teenager, Ziauddin said she posed enough of a threat to the Taliban and the group’s “ideology of darkness” that they decided it would be necessary to kill her. That’s because of what she stood for, he said — education for girls and empowerment and self-determination for women.
“Taliban are more afraid of books than bombs, believe me,” Yousafzai said.
But the hard-line form of Islam the Taliban have tried to enforce wasn’t always the norm in Pakistan, Ziauddin said. Before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, there was interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
Then, the United States, with the cooperation of Pakistan, began fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan, funding opposition forces. That conflict led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, but Ziauddin said it also taught a generation of young men that it was acceptable to kill others in the name of ethnicity and faith.
But as Pakistanis gain the courage to speak out against the Taliban, Ziauddin said he’s hopeful for the future.
The courage to speak against the Taliban, even after being attacked, was what made Malala an international figure, Yousafzai said — at this point, far outpacing himself in terms of name recognition.
“Before that, Malala was my daughter. But after that, I became her father,” Yousafzai said.
“In this male-dominated society, I am very proud that I am one of the few fathers who is known by his daughter.”
Source: The Nation