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Malala Yousafzai, 17, is youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.

‘A Girl With a Book’: Malala Yousafzai, Youngest Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Steve Russell

Malala Yousafzai has become, at age 17, the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize since it was established in 1901. As interesting, she won it jointly in a choice that, The New York Times pointed out, reached “across gulfs of age, gender, faith, nationality and even international celebrity.” Her co-winner, Kailash Satyarthi, 60, is an Indian campaigner against child labor. Satyarthi is much less well known than Malala, but the symbolism of the Nobel committee reaching across the historic hostility between the two Asian nuclear powers is rich.

The Times quoted Thorbjorn Jagland, the committee chair: “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”

Both the elder and the child Nobel laureates agreed to work towards ending the hostilities between their countries, and began that work by inviting the prime ministers of both countries to the ceremonies in Oslo. The latest shooting between the two countries came two days before the Nobel announcement, and killed 11 Pakistanis and eight Indians.

Malala came to world attention as a student from the Swat Valley in Pakistan, an area formerly ruled by the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalists who believe that educating girls is sinful. The Taliban have proudly burned schools and thrown acid on girls seeking to study.

At age 11, Malala began a blog published in English and Urdu by the BBC called “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl” under the nom de plume Gul Makai (Corn Flower). When the Taliban fled, Malala’s identity became common knowledge. Fluent in English, the girl appeared on British and American television advocating that Islam does not ban education of women.

Malala’s visibility in western media made her a target, and in 2012, a Taliban gunman attacked a school bus and shot Malala in the head. Two other girls were critically injured, but Malala was the target. “Malala was using her tongue and pen against Islam and Muslims,” the Taliban said in a written statement, “so she was punished for her crime by the blessing of the Almighty Allah.”

Critically injured, Malala was evacuated to a British hospital in Birmingham, England, where she lives with her father in exile. Malala was 15 when shot for going to school, and by her next birthday, on July 12, 2013, she was recovered enough to give a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, which declared her 16th birthday “Malala Day.”

She remains under death sentence by the Taliban, but Malala has become the public voice of the U.N.’s Global Education First Initiative. She told the UN, “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.”

In the worldwide backlash against Malala’s attempted assassination, a political slogan has arisen that makes little sense out of context, “Girls With Books!” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was referring to that slogan when he commented on her Nobel win: “With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most: a girl with a book.”

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