Thanks to Facebook I watched the unforgettable clip of Jon Stewart’s touching interview with Malala Yousafzai this week on “The Daily Show” just this morning.
I was reminded of Malala’s story -- she became a well-known champion of women’s education as an eleven-year-old child in Pakistan, writing her own blog and demanding education for girls in her Swat Valley community.
Then almost exactly a year ago, she was rewarded for her efforts with a Taliban bullet to the head. For a few days her life hung in the balance. She survived, thanks to a gifted British medical team.
And now on Wednesday – sixteen-years-old and gracefully garbed in a sparkling orange veil – Malala left the irrepressible Jon Stewart speechless.
The audience couldn’t stop applauding.
We were all captivated. This amazing young woman was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
She had to win!
Only a few minutes after watching the clip, I got an email announcing the Nobel Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision: the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), located in The Hague, had been awarded the 2013 prize.
I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person whose first reaction was a disappointed shrug.
How could that brilliant, courageous Pakistani girl be overlooked in favor of some faceless, virtually anonymous agency?
Questions linger. While we can only speculate one can’t help but wonder if there is a political reason why the secretive Norwegian Nobel Committee turned a blind eye to this daring young woman, a target of radical Islamist terrorists?
Scandinavia has certainly seen its share of Muslim rage. Riots raging in Malmo, Sweden. An epidemic of rapes in Norway. Seemingly endless threats and attempted assaults over the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammed in Denmark.
Meanwhile, the progressive leadership in the region has persistently clung to the idea that these events have been symptoms of economic inequality, not of any politico/religious agenda against western culture.
Is it safer for the Nobel Committee to ignore the reality of radical Islamist violence than to risk putting a spotlight on it?
Is it more comfortable to brush off Malala Yousafzai’s story as an unfortunate but isolated incident in some remote village?
Or is it simply politically incorrect to applaud her?
Malala has, indeed, put a face on the threat of terrorism, on the absence of women’s rights in radical Muslim countries, on the bloodthirsty mindset of those who hate western ideas – such as education – and on the indomitable courage of a real, modern-day heroes.
It’s true that the Nobel, once the gold standard for international achievement, has lost some of its luster in recent decades. But it still retains prestige, having once rewarded such giants as Andrei Sakarov, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi, Elie Weisel and more.
So why not Malala?
Naturally there are those who approved of this year’s decision.
The Guardian praised it, calling the OPCW “an unshowy agency” with a “striking success record.”
The immediacy of the Syrian crisis over chemical weapons and their destruction, which is now reportedly underway, could explain the focus on this otherwise obscure group, implying that the decision was made quite recently.
Even before the decision was announced, Tilman Brueck, head of the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, stated that the prize should not go to Malala. Brueck told Norwegian news agency NTB that, “I’m not sure it would be suitable, from an ethical point of view, to give the peace prize to a child.”
Never mind the oft-repeated prophecy of future world peace in Isaiah 11:6 "The wolf will live with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the young goat. The calf and the lion will graze together, and a little child will lead them.’
Asked by host Jon Stewart what she would do if confronted by attackers, Malala explained why she should not use violence:
“If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty…You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.
“I would tell him how important education is and that I would even want education for your children as well. That’s what I want to tell you,” she imagined telling her assailant, before adding, “now do what you want.”
If that’s not the embodiment of “peace,” I don’t know what is.
Lela Gilbert is author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner" and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians." She is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and lives in Jerusalem. For more, visit her website: www.lelagilbert.com. Follow her on Twitter@lelagilbert.