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The Malalas You'll Never Meet

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
October 12, 2012


The attempted assassination in Pakistan of fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai by Taliban shooters is only the latest and most brazen attack on leaders brave enough to defy death threats and fight for a girl's right to go to school.

Earlier this week gunmen boarded Malala's school van, asked for her by name and shot her. The teenager now fights for her life in a hospital and receives visits from dignitaries who until her attempted assassination had not dared to challenge publicly the kind of extremism that views educated girls as an existential threat.

But there are many Malalas whose stories rarely are heard. Just as this courageous girl refused to silently abandon her right to education even at the risk of losing her life, women and men fight daily against a worldview that considers girls' schools a call to action in their battle against modernity. Only Wednesday these fighters struck again in Afghanistan, bombing a girls' high school in the largely peaceful Bamyan province. And their stories serve as a reminder of the stakes involved in the fight against extremism and for modernity.

Khan Mohammad is one of these unheralded citizens battling the extremism that seeks to overtake his country. The head of the Porak girls' school in Logar province, a mere hour from Afghanistan's capital, Khan Mohammad ignored a series of Taliban warnings to stop teaching his students. In May 2011 Taliban shooters ended his fight to educate half the country with a series of bullets. He died near his home. Few headlines attended his murder, but he is and was not alone in his quest to keep girls in school.

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