Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Courageous Youths

In October of 2012, the Taliban attempted to assassinate Malala Yousafzai. The news appalled me. In spite of the danger, the courageous fifteen year old Pakistani had become an outspoken advocate for the education of young women in her homeland.

As a teacher of students Malala’s age, I joined the ranks of her admirers and, earlier this year, I applauded upon learning that she had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, in October, I celebrated the announcement that she had been awarded the prize, becoming the youngest Nobel Laureate ever.

I was stunned, however, when, during the ceremony in which Malala was awarded the Nobel Prize, a young man carrying a Mexican flag staged a protest.

Although twenty-one year old Adan Cortes Salas never specifically mentioned his cause, the world knew that he was attempting to hijack the occasion to express his outrage over the forty-three young men from Ayotzinapa, Mexico, who were arrested on September 29 and never heard from again.

The disappearance of these future teachers—whose only crime was to plan a peaceful protest to seek better conditions at the college they attended—has angered the citizenry of Mexico as well as people from all over the world.

During the award ceremony, as Adan Cortes Salas was being escorted away, he turned to the Nobel Laureate and said, “Please, Malala, they are killing us. Don’t forget Mexico.”

Although I disapprove of the way in which the protest upstaged what should have been the world’s celebration of the right for young women to obtain an education, his bold stroke highlighted that there are young people all over the world who are willing to take great risks in the name of justice. In upstaging Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, Adan Cortes Salas highlighted that the world has become interconnected by linking the issue of the education of women in Pakistan to the mass execution of future teachers in Mexico.

In both instances, youth in the pursuit of education were violently attacked.

I never would have endorsed Adan Cortes Salas’s act if he had been one of my students. But in the grand, and sometimes grim, scheme of things—where governments, police forces, and the movements that oppose them validate fear, terror, violence, torture, and war in the name of maintaining order—the peaceful protests of young people everywhere have earned their legitimacy.


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