THE BLOG
01/10/2014 02:20 pm ET | Updated Mar 12, 2014

Aitzaz's Sacrifice Should Not Be in Vain

True courage has many faces. It demands not just sheer willpower and strength but an utter belief in cause and total disregard for self.

Aitzaz Hasan has redefined the word courage. He was not a soldier going into battle, or a visionary leader prepared to die for his convictions but a 15-year-old schoolboy who gave his life to save 1,000 children from a suicide bomber.

On Monday, Aitzaz, from the town of Hangu in northwestern Pakistan, stood up to a militant extremist approaching his school. Police officials told how 150 meters away from the main gate, Aitzaz, who was there only because he was late for school, challenged the terrorist, whose sole intent was blowing up as many pupils as he could at morning assembly.

Aitzaz chose to tackle the bomber who then blew himself up. Brave Aitzaz perished with him. By standing up to a terrorist, this extraordinary boy saved countless lives and should join the ranks of those whose actions define the word courage.

This teenager thought his school important enough to defend and he had an instinctive sense that if the militants were allowed to destroy his school, they were taking away something valuable from his community.

This act of courage is a wake-up call for those of us in the West who have come to assume the right to education to be uncontroversial, even mundane, both the pupils who take universal education for granted and adults who are causal about its importance. They forget that there are terrorist groups dedicated to preventing the enlightenment and the end to ignorance that education entails.

And so it has been left to young boys and girls in the least promising of places to show us by their actions that they value their right to education more than the adults who are charged with watching over them. "Aitzaz has made us proud by valiantly intercepting the bomber and saving the lives of hundreds of his fellow students," his father, Mujahid Ali Bangash, said. "I am happy that my son has become a martyr by sacrificing his life for a noble cause."

Aitzaz is not alone. I think of the young girl who was burnt to death by a vengeful husband because she insisted she wanted an education, not a forced marriage and the young Moroccan girl, Raouia Ayache, who resisted the Education Minister in Morocco when he told her school was not for her. I think of the Bangladesh girls who formed the child marriage-free zones to prevent their fathers ending their schooling by selling them into wedlock and the Indian girl who, standing up to child traffickers, had acid thrown in her face for insisting she had the right to go to school. And remember Ashwini, the visually impaired Indian girl who told her teachers to stop treating her as a second class citizen not worthy of an education.

There are endless tales of courage. The Nigerian boys and girls who, even after their school was bombed by Boko Harem, defied them by insisting not only on going back to school but speaking publicly in defiance of them and defending every child's right to education.

And it is no surprise that one of the most courageous people I have ever met, Malala Yousafzai, has joined them this week by calling for Pakistan to give its highest courage award to Aitzaz Hasan. He deserves it.

The suicide bombing in Pakistan coincides with this month's launch of the Global Monitoring Report on education by UNESCO. It is no secret that it will reveal there are still 57 million children who are not at school millions more who, because of discrimination, will never complete their education.

Not just in honor of these sacrifices but because it is morally right and economically essential, we must do more to secure the right to education for the 57 million. These include more than 14 million school-age pupils forced into child labour. Another ten million girls force into child marriages that destroy their childhood each year, their innocence and their chances of making the most of their talents. And the 500,00 who are trafficked every year, denied their schooling. Spurred on by Aitzaz's sacrifice, our demand must be that exploitation and oppression should end and opportunity and education take their place.