October 9, 2012, exactly one year ago this Wednesday, a Taliban gunman boarded the bus that Malala Yousafzai was riding home from school and shot her in the head along with two of her classmates. The violent reprisal came after the teen refused to stop speaking on behalf of schoolgirls in northwestern Pakistan being denied education. The problem of course goes much wider than Pakistan: Around the world, girls are denied a formal education because of social, economic, legal and political factors.
Malala survived, and now the 16-year-old has become an advocate for women's education, and is a popular favorite for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded this Friday. In response, the Taliban has issued further threats on Malala's life.
What is even more striking however is Malala's response in the face of all of this. In her recent interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, she discussed how she would respond to a Taliban assassin. Her answer left Stewart speechless.
"I thought: If he comes, what would you do Malala?"
The young girl tells how she at first imagined retaliating against her attacker. But then it occurred to her that this would make her no different from him,
"if you hit a Talib ... there would be no difference between you and the Talib. ... You must fight, but through peace, and through dialog, and through education."
She then went on to explain what she would instead want to say to her would-be assassin,
"I'll tell him how important education is, and that I even want education for your children as well ... 'That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want."
At this, the audience erupted into cheers, and Stewart simply sat there dazed, his hands clasped over his mouth in awe.
It's easy to find stories of violence in our world -- whether this is legitimized in the name of "justice" or in the name of religion. There is no shortage of polarizing hostility today -- whether between political parties and nations or between religions. So to hear this young girl standing up to terror with a message of fearless and unflinching enemy love is truly remarkable. It is a story that frankly transcends religion, and speaks directly to our humanity -- a humanity that we so often forget, until we see it reflected in someone as remarkable as Malala and are reminded of what we all could be. Regardless of your religious persuasion (or lack-thereof) it's hard not to be moved by her words. Stewart spoke for many of us when he reflected at the end the show:
"That is certainly one of the finest examples of the human spirit that I have been a witness to."