One day when I was 6 years old, a 13-year-old girl took me by the hand, walked me into a public library and told me I could read any of the hundreds of books on the shelves. And I could read them for free.
That girl was Lois, my 13 year older sister. She has been gone for some years now. But I think of her each time books and libraries are in the news. I thought of her recently as the huge new town library opened and I happily walked through the door with my inner 6-year-old.
I thought about my sister again a few days later while watching a speech on television by one of the strongest and most influential teenage girls you will ever witness. That fairly famous 16-year-old girl named Malala Yousafzai was shot last year for the crime of female reading. In her recent speech at the United Nations, she fired up her movement to advocate for the many children in the world who have been denied the opportunity to learn how to read.
She spoke especially on behalf of girls, who have been specifically forbidden to read by the strange, male bullies of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Taliban who shot her.
Malala bluntly told her story:
“The Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices.
“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala ... I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists.
“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha.”
(You can find the video of her entire speech on YouTube under “BBC News - Malala Yousafzai.”)
What a vicious and clumsy mistake the Taliban has made. They not only motivated Malala to greater passion for her cause but they massively magnified her international influence. And she was born to lead a cause. She stood there on international television with millions watching and spoke with a dramatic grasp of language that is normally found among a historical handful of much older orators. She is a new Gandhi, a new King, a new Mandela.
The women and girls I know love books so very much. Giving books only to men and taking them away from women is like giving flowers, poetry and babies only to men and shooting little girls who differ with that decision.
It reminds me once again that even some peaceful religions, who wish their girls and women well, have underestimated the worth of women. Many Christian, Muslim and Jewish congregations overlook the fact that, on the whole, women are even more religious and nurturing than men.
Doesn’t that make them especially well-qualified to join men in the leadership positions from which those religions still bar them?
My sister Lois was my leader in the land of books. I wish she had lived to see how a brave girl can lead ignorant men out of the darkness.Bill Hall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501