Malala is the new symbol of hope

Story highlights

  • Malala Yousafzai has become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner
  • She was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school
  • John Sutter says Malala is not only an education activist; she's a symbol of hope

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)You have to love Malala.

The 17-year-old Pakistani advocate for girls' education who, on Friday, became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize told "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart last year what she would do if she were confronted again by a member of the Taliban.
"I'll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well," she said. "I'll tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you; now do what you want.' "
    This from a girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban.
    John D. Sutter
    For exercising her right to go to school.
    Malala Yousafzai was only 14 years old at the time -- and just 11 when she started blogging anonymously for the BBC about the struggles of life in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
    Stewart's response was priceless as well: "I know your father is backstage and he's very proud of you, but would he be mad if I adopted you?"
    It's not just him. The world has adopted Malala.
    She reminds us of the transformative power of education, especially for the 31 million primary-school-age girls, according to UNICEF, who aren't in school worldwide.
    And, as important, she is a beacon of hope -- a reminder that the human spirit holds in it immense possibility, warmth, humility and forgiveness.
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    U.S. President Barack Obama used to fill that role, back when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Now, as bombs fall over Syria and Iraq, in an attempt to destroy a terrorist group that has beheaded Americans, it's hard to continue to see him that way these days.
    Malala is the world's new symbol of hope.
    Her crusade for education rights only seems to be getting stronger as the years pass. And in the world of ISIS and Boko Haram, the Nigerian group that kidnaps young girls and attacks their schools, she's needed now more than ever.
    That she shares the prize with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children's rights activist, makes this moment all the more significant.
    "The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism," the committee said in a statement. The Nobel Committee praised Satyarthi as carrying on Gandhi's tradition of nonviolent resistance. And it called Malala's struggle "heroic."
    It's not hard to see why.
    "Dear friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too," Malala said at the United Nations in July 2013.
    "They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed.
    "And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born."
    It's telling that, according to ABC News, Malala was planning to be in school Friday.
    That's true determination.
    It's the kind that hopefully will give more girls around the world the right to do the same.