On Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, four Ku Klux Klansmen put a box of dynamite under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. When it exploded, it took the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, each of whom was 14 years old, and Denise McNair, who was 11. On Tuesday afternoon, October 9, 2012, gunmen stopped a school bus in Mingora, Pakistan, demanded the identity of Malala Yousafzai and shot her in the head. Malala survived, and yesterday she arrived at the Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Center in England, having been transported in darkness and in secrecy because the Taliban have vowed to shoot her again.
Malala is 14 years old. Her crime is not just that she wants to go to school but that she had the courage to say so in public. “She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area,” a Talabani spokesman said. “She was openly propagating it. Let this be a lesson.”
The terrorists knew exactly what they were doing. The demand for women’s rights and public education is as great a threat to the state they seek to impose, as was the moral courage of the Baptist churches to the Klan’s way of life.
It is difficult to be anything but speechless in the face of such evil. But silence and submission are exactly what those who kill children seek.
Malala is not a symbol of Western culture. She is a symbol of courage that is rare, dangerous and universal. May she live to inspire us again.