A curious thing struck me just now, as I watched the latest furore over David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and the other brave survivors of the Parkland school shootings. These teenagers have been using their experience to stand up against guns in America, and they are facing a huge backlash from the American right wing. They’ve been attacked on social media and mainstream media by conservatives, who are calling them everything from “spoilt teens” to “actors” as they spearhead marches and a major activist movement in the United States.
This has coincided with Malala Yousufzai’s surprise visit to Pakistan, where she and her family returned to Swat five years after her shooting. The backlash against Malala has been long and well-documented, but it reared its ugly head over this Easter weekend as Malala was feted at the Prime Minister House and then taken to her home town under heavy security. Again, people took to social media to call her an “actor”, an “agent”, claim that she was being “prepared by the West” to lead Pakistan one day.
That’s when I realized that these both, in countries far apart, are EXACTLY the same phenomenon. Teenagers who have survived being shot, nearly killed – and who have gone on to lead movements for change. In Malala’s case, education and rights for girls in Pakistan and beyond; in the Parkland teens’ case, safety for students in schools, and gun control in the United States. It’s almost as if the detractors are reading from the same playbook, accusing these teenagers (Malala is 20 now) of hating their country, wanting to dismantle its very tenets, being puppets of greater political forces.
The hatred and vitriol is the same, too. But so is the bravery and strength of these young people, who are standing up for what’s right, who are channeling personal trauma and tragedy into a greater cause. And their youthful innocence robbed from them too soon, they’ve had to grow up overnight and take responsibilities on their shoulders that nobody of that age should have to bear.
I have supported Malala fully for years. I believe in her cause. These young people give us all reason to hope for change that leaders and politicians have been too cowardly to pursue. Their energy and idealism, the purity of their beliefs, inspires millions around the world. Malala won the Nobel Prize for her struggle and for her vision. The Parkland teens will win similar accolades in time.
I’m reminded of a verse in the Bible: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6-9). This verse refers not to children leading adults, but to a world of peace where a child has nothing to fear from a leopard or a lion or a wolf. Malala Yousufzai and the Parkland teenagers make me believe that such a world is possible after all.
(You can read an interview with Malala Yousufzai for Teen Vogue here, in which she has a message for the Parkland shooting survivors. Thanks to Asian Feminist for pointing this out to me. Also, Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center wrote an op-ed for the Dawn on the similarities (and differences) between Malala and the Parkland students. Read it here.)