(Credit: Creative Commons)

Yesterday, President Obama invited Malala Yousafzai to the White House, where he, Michelle and Malia embraced her and thanked Malala for her courageous activism in Pakistan.

The teenager, who miraculously survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban and has since become a fierce advocate on behalf of women’s education in Pakistan, has been spreading her message of nonviolence and peace throughout America – a message that left Jon Stewart speechless.

During that interview, Stewart asked Malala what her thoughts were when she realized that the Taliban wanted her dead due to public critiques of the Taliban’s suppression of women’s rights. This was her remarkable answer:

I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, “If he comes, what would you do Malala?” Then I would reply to myself, “Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.” But then I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.”

Then I said, “I will tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well.” And I will tell him, “That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”

She brought that message to the White House yesterday, and my hope is that President Obama did more than just thank Malala for her bravery. My hope is that he truly internalized her message as well.

See, the United States spends at least ten times more on drone strikes in Pakistan than it does on education. This despite the fact that the United States, through the Economic Support Fund (ESF), gave Pakistan $905 million in aid for social services and education in 2013.

This staggering number, which is actually down from recent years, has led to some notable humanitarian improvements. However, it has also done very little to improve the way in which Pakistanis view the United States or curb extremism in the region – central strategic goals of the funding.

Per a congressional report:

By most objective measures, U.S. assistance to Pakistan since 2001 has not achieved its central goals, especially as Islamist extremism and militancy there have increased, the civilian government remains unstable, and the national economy continues to suffer.

While there are many reasons for this, a central reason is the military’s ongoing, intensive drone operation in Pakistan which continues to kill innocent civilians and is helping to entrench – rather than minimize – extremists like those who tried to murder Malala for wanting an education.

These drone strikes fuel anti-Americanism, create humanitarian crises, are illegal per international law and undermine American efforts to improve life for Pakistanis through ESF funding.

Why? Because, as Malala told Stewart, we have become just like the Taliban in that we have combated extremism and brutality with an impersonal, brutal drone warfare program. A program which obliterates homes, murders innocent children and does nothing to combat those who still want Malala dead.

We must, as Malala said, “Fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education.” We have been trying to do this as a country through intensive humanitarian funding levels in Pakistan, levels that make Pakistan the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid. Unfortunately, this has been in conjunction with our hitting Pakistan over the head with our collective shoes.

President Obama, please heed Malala’s words, and stop our self-destructive and brutal assassination program in Pakistan. Stand with Malala and commit fully to combating extremism with education, dialogue and peace.

This is the only way.


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, now out from Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

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