Spaces of Blue Week Seven: Contemporary Expressions of Humanity
"We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” "One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
―Malala YousafzaiI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban "Everything
falls apart. I lost all my friends....My marriage fell apart. I
suffered my second identity crisis. I'm very, very lucky to have been
able to get through it." ― Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the think tank
Book review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai by Marie Arana October 11, 2013 from The Washington Post
Ask social scientists how to end global poverty, and
they will tell you: Educate girls. Capture them in that fleeting window between
the ages of 10 and 14, give them an education, and watch a community change:
Per capita income goes up, infant mortality goes down, the rate of economic
growth increases, the rate of HIV/AIDS infection falls. Child marriage becomes
less common, as does child labor. Educated mothers tend to educate their
children. They tend to be more frugal with family money. Last year, the World
Bank reckoned that Kenya’s illiterate girls, if educated, could boost that
country’s economy by $27 billion in the course of a lifetime.
"Whether an emerging nation likes it or not, its
girls are its greatest resource. Educating them, as economist Lawrence Summers
once said, “may be the single highest-return investment available in the
Nowhere is that lesson more evident than in the
story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pashtun girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley who was
born of an illiterate mother, grew up in her father’s school, read Stephen
Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” by age 11 and has a gift for stirring
And nowhere did that lesson go more rebuffed than in
the verdant Swat Valley, where hard-line jihadists swept out of the mountains,
terrorized villages and radicalized boys, and where — one muggy day last
October — a Taliban fighter leapt onto a school bus, shouted, “Who is Malala?”
and shot her point-blank in the head for speaking out about her God-given right
to attend school.
Malala tells of that life-shattering moment in a
riveting memoir, “I Am Malala,” published this past week even as she was being
cited as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Co-written with
Christina Lamb, a veteran British journalist who has an evident passion for
Pakistan and can render its complicated history with pristine clarity, this is
a book that should be read not only for its vivid drama but for its urgent
message about the untapped power of girls.
The story begins with Malala’s father, Ziauddin
Yousafzai, the son of an imam (a preacher of Islam), who was instilled from
boyhood with a deep love of learning, an unwavering sense of justice and a
commitment to speak out in defense of both. Like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the
founder of Pakistan, Ziauddin was convinced that aside from the sword and the
pen, there is an even greater power — that of women — and so, when his
firstborn turned out to be a bright, inquisitive daughter, he raised her with
all the attention he lavished on his sons.
Ziauddin’s greatest ambition, which he achieved as a
relatively young teacher, was to establish a school where children could be
raised with a keen sense of their human potential. As a Pashtun, he came from a
tribe that had migrated from Kabul and settled on the lush but war-weary
frontier that separates Pakistan from Afghanistan; as a Yousafzai, he was the
proud inheritor of a rich legacy that could be traced to the Timurid court of
the 16th century. But he was also a poor man with high ambitions and not a cent
to his name.
Malala was born in 1997, as her father was
struggling to found his school against a sea of troubles: a deeply corrupt
government official to whom he refused to pay bribes; a mufti who lived across
the way and objected to the education of girls, a practice he denounced as
haram, or offensive to Islam; and the vicissitudes of a fierce jihad, visited
upon them from time to time in Taliban raids that evolved from harsh rhetoric
to outright killings. By the time Malala was 10 and the top student in her
father’s surprisingly flourishing school, radical Talibs had penetrated the
valley all the way to the capital of Islamabad and were beheading Pakistani
police, holding their severed heads high on the roadsides.
“Moniba and I had been reading the Twilight books,”
Malala recounts, and “it seemed to us that the Taliban arrived in the night
just like vampires. They appeared in groups, armed with knives and
Kalashnikovs. . . . These were strange-looking men with long straggly hair and
beards and camouflage vests over their shalwar kamiz, which they wore with the
trousers well above the ankle. They had jogging shoes or cheap plastic sandals
on their feet, and sometimes stockings over their heads with holes for their
eyes, and they blew their noses dirtily into the ends of their turbans.”
That was when the school bombings began and Maulana
Fazlullah, a young extremist who had once operated the pulleys at a river
crossing, became known as the Radio Mullah, a direct arm of the Taliban,
installing a systematic rule of terror over the Swat Valley. Fazlullah
announced the closing of girls’ schools; he lauded the killing of a female
dancer; his goons killed a teacher for refusing to pull his trousers above the
ankle the way the Taliban members wore theirs. “Nowhere in Islam is this
required,” the teacher had cried out in his defense.
“They hanged him,” Malala relates dryly, “and then
they shot his father.”
But for all the terror around them, Malala and her
family were hardly cowed into submission. Ziauddin continued to rail at his
country’s Talibanization in government offices, to the army, to anyone who
would listen, gaining a name throughout Swat for his rectitude and courage. And
although Malala learned to go to school with her books hidden under her shawl, she
continued to study and excel, eventually giving public speeches on behalf of
education that her father would help write. By 12, even as she pored over “Anna
Karenina” and the novels of Jane Austen, she was writing a BBC blog about her
experiences under the pen name Gul Makai.
When, in 2009, the family was forced to abandon the
increasingly violent border area in “the biggest exodus in Pashtun history,”
the Yousafzais made their way to Peshawar, where Malala did radio interviews,
met Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, turned 13 and continued to speak out for
girls’ education. Passing through Abbottabad as they made their escape, the
family could not have imagined that Osama bin Laden himself had found refuge
there. Finally winding their way home, they discovered that their beloved
school — in a metaphor for their own defiance — had become a holdout against
the Taliban for the Pakistani army.
We know how this story ends, with a 15-year-old
child taking a bullet for a whole generation. It is difficult to imagine a
chronicle of a war more moving, apart from perhaps the diary of Anne Frank.
With the essential difference that we lost that girl, and by some miracle, we
still have this one. Disfigured beyond recognition by her assailant’s gun,
Malala was rushed to Peshawar, then Rawalpindi and finally to Birmingham,
England, where doctors reconstructed her damaged skull and knit back the
shattered face. But her smile would never be quite the same.
Resolute, Malala has never hidden that face — not
when the Taliban insisted on it, and not when she emerged from her battle for
survival to stand before the members of the United Nations in July and deliver
her message yet again, a little louder.
“There is good news coming from the U.K.,” the head
of military operations in Swat had told Malala’s desperate parents as they
awaited word of their child’s condition. “We are very happy our daughter has
“Our,” Malala points out, because she had become the
daughter of a nation.
But she is ours, too, because she stands for the
universal possibility of a little girl.
Maajid Nawaz was growing up in Essex, England, in the 1990s, the son of
Pakistani parents, he first found his voice of rebellion through
gave me a feeling that my identity could matter — and did matter —
growing up as a British Pakistani who was facing racism from whiter
society," Nawaz tellsFresh Air's Terry Gross, "but also confusion about where my family was from and not really fitting into either culture."
began to join the dots and think, 'My God, if these guys that I'm here
with ever came to power, they would be the Islamist equivalent ofAnimal Farm," Nawaz says.
He says he began to see that it's "impossible to create a utopia."
living up close and seeing [the radicals'] everyday habits and
lifestyle, I thought, 'My God, I wouldn't trust these guys in power,'
because when I called it, back then, and said, 'If this caliphate, this
theocratic caliphate, was ever established, it would be a nightmare on
earth,' " Nawaz says. A
year after his release, at the age of 24, Nawaz left the Islamist group
and its ideology. He later co-founded the think tank Quilliam, which is
dedicated to countering extremist beliefs.
when we see what ISIL [the self-proclaimed Islamic State] is doing in
the name of this theocratic caliphate, I believe I have been vindicated
that these guys, any of them, if they ever got to power, they would be
committing mass atrocities," Nawaz says.
You may wish to read my review of Nawaz's memoir Radical
For anyone who believes that Angela Merkel's position on power is in doubt should read this piece in the Washington Post
One Turkish town has done so much for Syrian
refugees it’s up for the Nobel Peace Prize
February 17, 2016 by Richard Hall
The town of Kilis, a busy little place just a few
miles from the Syrian border, is where many refugees fleeing the horror of war
are first able to breathe a sigh of relief.
In the courtyards of its cafes and restaurants, they
drink tea without fear of bombs raining down. In the shops, they buy cellphones
to use to call relatives and plan their next steps.
For most, it is a stop on a longer journey: farther
into Turkey or beyond, to Europe. But for more than 100,000 Syrians, it's the
final destination — or at least the place where they will wait out the war.
“The people in this town have been good to us
Syrians,” says Maher, a businessman who has lived in Kilis for the past two
years. “Many of them have helped me in the past.”
Syrians outnumber Turkish people in Kilis. Around
120,000 have settled in the town and surrounding area, 35,000 of them in camps.
One of those camps hosts some 15,000 refugees. It has a school, health care
facilities and well-built container shelters.
Those kind of numbers could easily wear on a local
population. Indeed, in many towns in Turkey and Lebanon, refugees are seen as a
burden. But here, the locals have remained strikingly charitable.
It's enough to motivate the deputy head of Turkey’s
ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ayhan Sefer Ustun, to nominate the
people of Kilis for the Nobel Peace Prize. (The Greek island of Lesbos was
nominated for the same reason a few weeks earlier.)
"People share their jobs, houses, trades and
social spaces [with Syrian refugees]. I suppose that such an example of an act
of mass peace does not exist in the world,” he wrote in his letter to the Nobel
"What would happen if 2.5 million refugees, who
fled the war, would come to Paris where 2.5 million people live? What would the
British think and do if 3 million refugees, who fled the war or natural
disaster for shelter, came to London, which has a population of more than 3
million? What would their criteria for tolerance and understanding be in such a
case?” he wrote.
But how do the residents of this town, which has
changed so dramatically in character since the beginning of the war, really
feel about their new neighbors?
“There is no difference between us,” says Halil, the
owner of a cafe frequented by Syrians. “We serve them here like everyone else
and some of them work for us.”
Standing next to him, a young Syrian boy holds a
tray of tea. He’s one of the few Syrians on staff here.
“I like it here. People are good. No one bothers
me,” he says, before darting off to serve more customers.
One of the reasons refugees have been given a
generous reception may be because they have helped fuel the local economy. Most
business owners in Kilis have benefited from the influx of people and money.
But even those who haven’t are largely supportive of the refugee community.
In the early days of the uprising against Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad, Kilis was a quieter place. The refugee crisis had
yet to fully take hold. Kilis was better known for being the last stop for
foreign fighters going into Syria without too much difficulty. Journalists and
young men of fighting age would cross paths in the same hotels before heading
toward what was then a porous border. When the war next door intensified and
more refugees began to flood over the border, aid workers followed. The town
Today, the streets bustle. On the main road that
runs through the town, Syrians buy from Syrian-owned shops and stalls and eat
in Syrian cafes. Children work in the streets, shining shoes and selling food.
The atmosphere has changed. And it’s hard to find many people who will talk ill
of the Syrians in their town.
Bushra, a teacher who works in a school for Syrian
and Turkish children, said there is an understanding here about what is
happening to the Syrian people.
“They are running away from a war, they are running
away from problems, so they aren’t trying to make problems here,” she says.
But that kind of tolerance could soon be stretched
to its limit. Some 50,000 Syrians have amassed on other side of the border,
close to Kilis, fleeing a fierce, Russian-backed government offensive on the
city of Aleppo and the surrounding countryside.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he
would let them in “if necessary,” but warned of the prospect of an even greater
"There is a chance the new wave of refugees
will reach 600,000 if airstrikes continue. We are making preparations for
it," he said in a speech to a business forum in Ankara on Thursday.
There are a few in Kilis who don’t like the idea of
admitting more refugees. It’s the younger generation, those who are looking for
their first jobs.
“It’s not good for the Turkish people for more
people to come,” says a high school student who does not wish to be named.
“Look at these women over here,” he says, pointing across the road, “every day
they beg for money. It’s too crowded here.”
The burden of the Syrian refugee crisis has weighed
on Turkey more than any other country. It has taken in more than 2.5 million
Syrians and spent billions of dollars building refugee camps and providing
The crisis has become a sore point in relations with
the European Union in recent days, as the bloc has pressured Ankara to seal
Turkey's borders to Europe, while at the same time opening its borders with
Syria. The EU has promised 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to help Turkey deal
with the crisis, but Turkish officials suggest the country is reaching its
capacity, and have accused the EU of hypocrisy and self-interest.
Film review by Roger Ebert
Screenshot from Le Havre
Le Havre (by Finnish Director, Ali
Kaurismaki) is set…in the French port city where many of the cargoes are
human: illegal immigrants arriving from Africa. The police find a container
filled with them, and a young boy slips under their arms and runs away. This is
Idrissa from Gabon, solemn, shy, appealing. The cops announce
a manhunt. The film's hero, Marcel Marx, is fishing near a pier
and sees the boy standing waist-deep in the water, hiding, and mutely appealing
to him. He returns, leaves out some food and finds the food gone the next day.
And so, with no plan in mind, Marcel becomes in charge of protecting the boy
The movie's other characters are all proletarians
from a working-class neighborhood, and in Kaurismaki's somewhat sentimental view,
therefore in sympathy with the little underdog and not with the police. We meet
Marcel's wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen, long the director's favorite actress),
who joins her husband in his scheme. Their dog, Laika, is also a great help.
Marcel, probably in his 50s, is a hard-working shoeshine man who knows
everyone, including a snoop, a woman grocer; a fellow
Vietnamese shoeshiner, Inspector Monet, and a local
rock singer named Little Bob, whose act is unlike any you have
Marcel and Arletty are long and happily in love.
They cherish each other. Childless, they care for the boy and enlist others in
the neighborhood to hide him from Inspector Monet, who perhaps is not looking
all that hard. The snoop is a throwback to informers during the Resistance.
Idrissa is resourceful and clever, and moves in and out of hiding places like a
figure in a French farce. The dog fully deserves its listing by name in the
Early in the conspiracy, Arletty falls ill and is
rushed to the hospital, concerned only that her sickness will make Marcel
worry. In a priceless scene, she meets Idrissa for the first time when Marcel
dispatches him to the hospital on a mission. Note her perfect acceptance of any
emissary from her husband, even an inexplicable young African boy. Note, too,
the precise sequence of events during which Marcel believes his wife has died
and discovers otherwise. Even Kaurismaki's miracles are deadpan.
This movie is as lovable as a silent comedy, which
it could have been. It takes place in a world that seems cruel and heartless,
but look at the lengths Marcel goes to find Idrissa's father in a refugee camp
and raise money to send the boy to join his mother in England. Le Havre
has won many festivals, including Chicago 2011, comes from a Finnish auteur,
yet let me suggest that smart children would especially like it. There is
nothing cynical or cheap about it, it tells a good story with clear eyes and a
level gaze, and it just plain makes you feel good.