Conservatives Should Support Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai did not become the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at age 16. Her many admirers around the globe are undoubtedly disappointed that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received the award instead of her. Regardless of what the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to do, conservatives can and should wish this brave young lady from Pakistan all success.

I, for one, have long considered the Nobel Peace Prize to be a joke. Though Malala and her family surely would have liked her to join the ranks Barack Obama (who did nothing to earn the prize) and Yasser Arafat (who worked for precisely the opposite of what the prize is supposed to reward) — the Committee has been nothing but a self-congratulatory agency for liberals who don’t actually do anything useful. They can just feel happy about the contribution they’ve made to the greater good with a gold medallion.

What Malala has done is much more important than anything accomplished by that now irrelevant body.

For those who don’t know her story, she was educated by her father in Pakistan in her early years. According to the Taliban, it is illegal to educate women — and by age eleven, she was speaking on behalf of women and girls who wanted an education. She began blogging anonymously for the BBC about her education experiences in Pakistan. Eventually, the area’s ban on schools for girls was lifted and Malala began appearing on television and other news outlets to discuss providing education for poor girls.

For all this the Taliban threatened to kill her, found her on a bus, and shot her in through the head and neck. Miraculously, she survived and was taken to a military hospital in Peshawar. She has since recovered and has been speaking out in the West about conditions in Pakistan and about education for women and girls around the world.

USA Today’s Qanta Ahmed argues that she’s no Gandhi, no peacemaker yet. However, Gandhi lived in an India under British control — a culture with a history of free speech — not Pakistan.

In other words, there the peace was largely already made. Historian Paul Johnson said of Gandhi that he “could have flourished in the protected environment provided by British liberalism.” George Orwell said that “it is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard from again.”

Malala’s goals may be much harder to accomplish. It is precisely because Pakistan is a place where enemies of the Taliban are assassinated or “disappear in the middle of the night” that it needs to change as a country. But nations, like people — as most of us have experienced — don’t change unless they want to. Outsiders can only do so much. As conservatives must understand, we can provide incentive and support, but Pakistan must ultimately choose to reform.

After Commodore Matthew Perry parked his frigates off the coast of Japan and told them to open their ports, Japanese leaders could have met the minimum level of cooperation, but they recognized the advantages of cultural reform. Their decision to acknowledge and to adopt the positive practices of the modern Western world ultimately resulted in Japan’s becoming one of the most prosperous nations in world history in the 20th century.

Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton and one of the world’s foremost scholars of Islam and the Ottoman Empire, offers a reason why the Muslim World did not react the same way Japan did. In several of his works, Lewis maintains that the Muslim World’s failure (with the exception, more or less, of Turkey) to make sense of and react to the changes in the West resulted in its being overtaken by the outside world — and at least partially explains its violent reaction against the outside world since.

For countries like Pakistan to do well, they need many more Malalas who recognize the reforms necessary to cease the prevalent oppression there and in other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. All decent people wish to see an end of the suffering of people there. Again, we can support and incentivize — but lasting change must come from within.

Because she may be spark that starts the fire in Pakistan, Malala deserves the applause and the prayers of conservatives for success in her mission.