Millions of the world's peaceful and hopeful people — and especially the Pashtun nation, home of Malala Yousafzai — were jubilant when she took the stage of UN General Assembly to address the world on her 16th birthday on July 12.
A video presentation of her speech at the UN will be part of the Gandhi Peace Festival at Hamilton City Hall on Oct. 5 at 10 a.m. There will also be an interactive conversation about Malala's Quest for Peace and Education, with her native community members at the free festival.
Malala's confidence, thoughtfulness and soft-spoken words at the UN provided the world a rare opportunity to internalize the message of education and peace.
But indeed it was the rarest occasion for Pashtuns to be represented by Malala in the highest forum in the world. Until now most of the invaders, such as Zahir-ud-din Babur, Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Olaf Caroe, have told the story of Pashtuns for their empires' hegemonic designs and Pashtuns have been stereotyped as a marshal race who loves wars. But time provided an opportunity to Malala to represent the true image of Pashtuns in the comity of nations.
Pashtunwali, the way of life of Pashtuns, is an unwritten constitution that provides the right of expression though cultural institutions such as hujra and jirga. The Pashtuns are normal human beings who submit to dialogue and respect for treaties; have forgiveness, and who protect children, women, and elderly in feuds and wars. This lifestyle was practised centuries before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the Geneva Convention of 1949.
Unfortunately, the West did not pay attention to Pashtuns' story while creating new states and contemporary societies. The West ignored the philosophy of nonviolence and the struggle for freedom of Bacha Khan due to their Cold War rivalry. The West used Pashtuns as cannon fodder in this rivalry and their land was used as a buffer zone between Western sphere of influence and Moscow. This mindset is slowly changing because the indigenous Pashtun people have shown prolonged non-violent resistance and resilience for peace.
Malala's struggle is a continuation of the nonviolence philosophy of Bacha Khan which is based on the teachings of Buddhism and Islamic 'sageness' — the basic principles of Pashtunwali and indigenous egalitarian Pashtun society that is fully aligned with universal humanism and bonding.
This is what Malala said: "Even if there was a gun in my hand and he (Talib) was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone."
Malala boldly deconstructed the discourse of Taliban and their apologists with compassion by saying: "We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying: 'The pen is mightier than the sword' — it is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would point guns at people's heads just for going to school. These terrorists are misusing the name of Islam for their own personal benefit. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. Peace is a necessity for education (and prosperity). In many parts of the world, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism, war and conflicts stop children from going to schools. We are really tired of these wars."
Today, over 50 million Pashtuns are tired of an imposed war. They are resisting the worst form of armed violence, and social and political instability with the nonviolence weapon that Baacha Khan had given to them in 1930. Malala reinvigorated this struggle, which is not only resisting militancy in the Af-Pak region, but also for broader regional peace and global security.
The regional states, civil society, and the international community, therefore, need to study and analyze the lives and struggle of Pashtuns and address the root causes of war theatre being played on Pashtuns' land. They need to create dialogue for peace-building by organizing conversation forums, seminars and conferences to defeat extremism and bring peace to Af-Pak and the region.
Hollywood and Bollywood need to make films on the life and struggle of Bacha Khan and Malala's legacy to advance the universal peace agenda that offers a profound message of hope in these increasingly troubled times.
The people and governments of the region, especially Af-Pak and India, need to initiate dialogue to resolve their disputes peacefully. They need to include peace education in their national curricula and to highlight positive role models such as Malala, Bacha Khan, Gandhi, Mandela, King and Jinah to give hope to present and future generations.
They need to find common bonds using the goodwill of Malala's stature to work toward free trade and shared markets to educate their nations and create conditions for respectful dialogue, human security, poverty reduction, access to education, sustainable local markets, and good governance for the millions of people.
Jahan Zeb is working with Gandhi Peace Festival, a project of McMaster University and Hamilton firstname.lastname@example.org