Sue Carlton: Girl shot by Taliban offers lessons for us all

In interviews before it happened, she looks like a schoolgirl who might make the news here for winning the Math Bowl or some big scholarship, dark-haired and earnest.

Instead she talked about why girls should have the right to go to school and get an education, something we don't have to give any more thought to than, say, the right to have music coming out of our ear buds.

How unreal the story of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai must seem to a lot of American kids, this Pakistani schoolgirl who spoke up and got shot in the head by the Taliban for it, half a world away in a place where speaking up can end your life.

It must sound like those long-ago stories middle school teachers tell about how black people weren't allowed to eat in the same restaurants as whites and women couldn't vote, tales as unfamiliar as manual typewriters (or any typewriter).

Though Madonna herself did cause a stir recently by putting Malala's name on what has been described as a tramp stamp across her back — a muddled message, maybe, but an important one that says this matters even here.

In America, we are fascinated (some of us, anyway) with young women famous for not much more than being famous, and pretty, and rich. A morning news show this week informed me that a Kardashian has gained weight since she's been dating a famous guy. Now I know.

This week it was encouraging to hear that women matter in the presidential debate, with talk of contraception, glass ceilings and still making seventy-something cents to the more manly dollar. President Obama got to talk about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act he signed. And Mitt Romney told us how, when he became governor and seemed to have no female candidates for Cabinet positions, he sought them out. (We also got to roll our eyes when he said he ended up with "binders full of women," a goofy term sure to inspire one of this year's more creative Halloween costumes.)

In Pakistan, Malala's push for education (and against terrorism) was more basic. Knowledge is power, and it's not hard to see why extremists bent on suppressing women and any ideas they have about freedom, equality and politics would see this as a threat. Even from a 15-year-old.

Right now in our own country, certain politicians are trying to make it harder for certain people — minorities in particular — to vote under the guise of improving the election system.

In our own state, politicians are trying to scare Supreme Court justices who are supposed to operate free of political pressure by threatening their jobs. In our own back yard, people spread fear of a religion not their own under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Speaking up matters, with a voice or a vote, even in a place where it's allowed.

When you are talking about men so vicious they would shoot a child in the head, it is a miracle Malala survived, though questions linger about how much she will recover. I want the end of this story to be that the world fought back because of her, that she gets to grow up to be everything she wanted to before they silenced her with bullets — a doctor, or a politician working for peace.

She should also be a living symbol of how change can come from bloodshed and loss and someone standing up. At 15, I guess she has done that already.

Sue Carlton: Girl shot by Taliban offers lessons for us all 10/18/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 19, 2012 1:51am]

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