If Donald Trump had his way, Malala wouldn't be allowed to enter the US. Fortunately, Trump's hateful bluster is just that, because Malala Yousafzai's story and her voice are needed more than ever before. Against the false narratives recklessly flouted by Trump and others in the Republican party - Muslims are the enemy; keeping them and refugees out will stop terrorism- Malala offers a compelling, true alternative: a moderate Muslim with a loving family and a refugee herself, like most of the victims of terrorism.
Driven from her home in Pakistan after Taliban fired on her and her classmates on a school bus for the simple reason of seeking an education, Malala's fearless counter-narrative of empowerment and education defies the brutal nihilism of extremism."I have the right to sing...I have the right to speak up. I will get my education, if it is in home, school, or any place. They cannot stop me."
Malala provides a ringing answer to the question "where are the voices of moderate Muslims?" Through fortuitous timing, her voice is accessible around the world at this dark moment, through the documentary He Named Me Malala.
Can a film make a difference in the struggle against violent extremism? No film will vanquish ISIS on the ground, but in the battle for hearts and minds - arguably the battle for the soul of Islam--the extraordinary life story of the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, looks like a better bet than the State Department's countering violent extremism (CVE) campaign of gruesome videos and clever hashtags. While ISIS lures recruits with false images of an idyllic life, Malala offers an authentic and accessible hero - a hero who is teased by her brothers, who plays her role in a family with ups and downs like any other, and who is a devout Muslim.
Malala speaks out against the Taliban of course, but her courageous words, born out by her resilience following the cowardly shooting that left her deaf in one ear, have inspired people young and old around the world, especially those facing the scourge of violent extremism.
For her 18th birthday last July, Malala launched her "Books not Bombs" campaign with a screening of the documentary in the Azraq Refugee Camp, just over the border from Syria in Jordan. She visited with her friend Muzoon, dubbed the "Syrian Malala" for her advocacy of girls' education and also featured in the documentary. After the film brought to light Muzoon's activism, the young Syrian received asylum and has been able to leave the refugee camp for Europe. In screenings around the world, including to at risk youth, He Name Me Malala brings to life a compassionate and tolerant Islam, a faith where education matters and everyone is encouraged to succeed. For tens of thousands of students in Nigeria, Kenya, and India, it was the first film they ever had seen. In Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani is considering a proposal to screen the film in schools the country.
Malala's powerful counter-narrative to "Islamic" extremism adheres to the well-known hadith of the Prophet: "the ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr". This forerunner of our own "pen is mightier than the sword" evidently has escaped notice by ISIS and the Taliban. And Donald Trump.
In another time of deep division and fear, Abraham Lincoln urged Americans to listen to "the better angels of our nature". Today when we are bombarded by images of violence in the Middle East and in our own streets, and rhetoric of division and revenge, this is no easy task. Malala is one of those better angels. Let's listen.