Last Friday, Malala Yousafzai took to the podium at the U.N. It was her 16th birthday and her first major public appearance since the Taliban’s attempt to assassinate the Pakistani schoolgirl last October for her efforts to promote girls’ education. Traces of the near-fatal attack were still visible, as the disfiguring on the left side of her face showed. But as she demonstrated in a powerful and moving speech, her resolve had not dimmed.
Malala issued a simple plea: she wanted the world’s leaders to offer children free and compulsory education. She said that she wanted to wage a war against illiteracy and terrorism, but had no use for the tools of violence. “Let us pick up our books and our pens,” Malala urged. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” The audience, both inside the U.N. hall where she spoke and among the many who saw the speech live on television around the world, responded with tearful applause. Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed Malala as “the most courageous girl in the world.”
Back home in Pakistan, however, the reaction was depressingly mixed.