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Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, of Pakistan, appearing in the U.K. earlier this year. (Image: Getty)

Harper and Malala

Shahid Mahmood

Ian Fleming famously wrote, "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action." The day Malala Yousafzai was to be conferred with an honorary Canadian citizenship, a Canadian soldier was shot dead at the War Memorial on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Two days before Malala Yousafzai arrived in Canada to receive this honorary citizenship a radicalized man attacked two Canadian soldiers in Quebec. Two years ago, Malala Yousafzai herself was shot -- targeted by the Taliban. After blogging about her life under the Taliban, Malala went public with her opposition to brutal Taliban laws that prohibited girls from attending school. In October of 2012, a gunman boarded her school bus, asked for her, and shot her in the head. One of the bullets shattered her skull but she survived. Since the shooting, Malala has bravely withstood sustained adversity eloquently saying at the United Nations, "So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dragged Canada into an asymmetrical war with ISIS. This only ensures future Canadian casualties—brought about from a misguided foreign policy. At Malala's citizenship ceremony Prime Minister Harper was going to publicly commit over a-hundred-million-dollars to the Global Partnership for Education—an organization Malala supports. Prime Minister Harper postponed Malala's ceremony in the wake of the shootings on Parliament Hill. This was a missed opportunity for making a powerful statement to radicalized fundamentalists worldwide.

Fundamentalists, like the Taliban and ISIS, take advantage of illiteracy. Fundamentalists impress illiterate minds with their twisted ideologies—radicalizing people living in improvised areas. American generals once claimed, "We're making progress. We are clearing the area of the Taliban." Colin Powell admonished these generals by saying, "You really don't defeat the Taliban by clearing an area." World leaders need to deal with global illiteracy before they will see an impact on radical extremism. It is no coincidence the greatest radicalized behavior is seen in those parts of the world where there is the greatest amount of social dysfunction.

Well before 9-11, I drew an editorial cartoon of a monkey, tagged as an illiterate Taliban, trying to read an upside-down Koran. Editors liked the cartoon but were hesitant to print. A few newspapers decided to print it—but they either erased the "Taliban" tag on the monkey's head or the text that spelled "Koran" on the holy book's cover. Even at an exhibition in France, a newspaper felt it was safer to whiteout the Koran in final print form. I received numerous threats for this cartoon. Letters were mailed to my home—indicating the people making these threats knew exactly where I lived. At the insistence of family, I gave these letters to the police and was made to promise to be more careful. Being the recipient of death threats is unsettling—it makes you think whether an opinion is actually worth expressing. But ultimately, it is important to express oneself. Opinions, like C.S Lewis' modern educator, are tasked, “not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Shahid Mahmood

Shahid Mahmood grew up in Pakistan. He was the editorial cartoonist for the national newspaper in Pakistan, Dawn. His work has appeared in numerous International publications including the Guardian, Huffington Post and Courrier International. Shahid’s work was viewed by world leaders at the 1997 APEC Conference, enjoyed by John F. Kennedy Jr., and managed to continuously enrage Benazir Bhutto. Shahid is internationally syndicated with the New York Times Press Syndicate; has work archived at the Museum of Contemporary History in Paris; and has been “Designated High-Profile” on the US Government's No-fly List. His web page is:

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