I came a little late to the Malala party, having seen the headlines but never actually heard her speak until very recently, but when I did I was amazed.
Malala Yousafzai, of course, is the teenage girl from Pakistan who had the courage to stand up to the Taliban and advocate education for girls in her native Swat Valley, and who was shot in the face for her troubles. Since recovering from her injuries, Malala has been a tireless voice for education and peace in that part of the world, and has appeared in numerous interviews with the Western press to discuss her experiences and beliefs, and to rally others to support her cause.
For sure, she is still a child, but a child with an astonishing amount of wisdom and composure. Her ideas are pure and constructive and her words positive, respectful, and hopeful.
This is in stark contrast to the attitudes and behavior of the Republicans, who have shown nothing but mean-spiritedness, recklessness, and cold-blooded calculation in their showdown with the White House over the federal budget. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and of course the Tea Partiers, routinely hurl insults at the President of the United States and are trying to sabotage a health care law meant to help millions of sick and uninsured Americans simply because it is a victory for the other side, restrict food stamps for the poor, and cut benefits for senior citizens.
It is shameful that fully grown adults from the richest country in the world and who have lived a life of privilege in comparison to Malala cannot muster the strength of character or a sense of decency to act with even a fraction of the dignity that this teenager exhibits, but that is precisely the case.
What is even more startling about Malala is her utter lack of anger or cynicism over what happened to her. She focuses on the positive and talks about the importance of peaceful change and education to bring about improvements rather than seeking revenge against her oppressors. Here too the vindictive politics and insidious tactics of the GOP and the latent violence of the Tea Party movement stand out in contrast.
It is tempting to assume that it is simply Malala's young age that enables her to be so clear and pure in her thinking and not cynical, but we would be wrong. For despite her age, this is a girl who was brutally attacked simply for standing up for the right of Pakistani women to receive a decent education, and will live with the physical and emotional scars from the violence all her life. If there is anything that could corrupt the innocent perspective of a child in an instant, it is that; and yet Malala refuses to let that terrible incident compromise her sense of hope, her compassion for others, her generosity, her personal grace, or her belief in the importance of peaceful solutions to problems.
In that achievement lies her personal triumph, and in the lack of such spiritual courage lies the utter failure of the GOP and the Tea Party. As we wind down to an inevitable deal over the debt ceiling (or not), it is worth comparing the two just to recognize how immature the Republicans have become, and how completely they have abandoned the principles of civilization, compassion, and dignity that Malala represents in spades.
If there is anyone who is a true American here, it is not the Republicans but Malala.
SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner, as well as at multi-billion dollar hedge fund Ramius. His opinion pieces have appeared in FORTUNE, Bloomberg Businessweek, Christian Science Monitor, and Huffington Post, and he has appeared on CNBC's 'Closing Bell', TheStreet.com, and HuffPost Live on business topics. He is also the author of two thriller novels.
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