Tag Archives: Taylor Gibson

Malala Is Anything But A Western Puppet


Malala Yousafzai meets with President Obama. Photo credit: Reuters

Malala Yousafzai meets with President Obama. Photo credit: Reuters

When it was announced that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) won the Nobel Peace Prize, many were stunned by the decision.  This sparked a divisive discussion about why Malala Yousafzai, the clear favorite to win the prize, was overlooked.

Although many were disappointed in the decision, multiple scholars and media outlets felt the Nobel Prize committee was spot on and accused Malala of simply being a stooge for Western ideals.  Some pundits were more courteous than others; the Washington Post said the Nobel committee did Malala a favor, because, “Awarding Malala the highest honor in peacemaking, at the pinnacle of the campaign to remake her into a Western celebrity, would have validated that effort, deliberately or not.  It would have reaffirmed that too common Western habit that, by giving a powerful symbol a greater platform and lots of accolades, we’ll have fulfilled our duty.  Like a sort of slacktivism writ large, awarding Malala the Nobel would have told us what we wanted to hear: that celebrity awareness can fix even the worst problems.”  The New York Times reported that many in her home, the Swat Valley of Pakistan, felt that she either didn’t do enough for her home, was part of a larger western conspiracy, or that there were plenty of other female advocates for education who should equally be recognized.  Some even went so far as to assert that Malala’s rise to fame was the result of a western, white savior complex, and that Malala herself was a puppet of the west, incapable of criticizing Western Governments or society.

Are these criticisms really all that fair?

Coincidentally, the day the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded was also International Day of the Girl.  The Day of the Girl is a response to a massive problem facing the world today: the inequality girls face in all aspects of society.  The day was a call to action to do more to ensure and achieve gender equality.  Gender equality is an absolute necessity for global peace and stability.  In India, adolescent pregnancies result in the loss of nearly $10 billion USD in potential income annually.  In Uganda, 85 percent of girls leave school early.  Globally, 14 million girls are forced to marry against their consent before turning the age of 18.  Do not think for a second that this is merely a developing world problem; in the U.S., 1 in 5 girls is a victim of sexual abuse.

Education has the ability to reduce the social, political, and economic equality gaps that every girl faces at some point in her life.  A little over a year ago, Malala was shot by the Taliban for advocating girls education, as well as women’s rights.  Although she quickly rose to fame after nearly dying from her critical condition, the notion that the West has used her to promote western values is grossly exaggerated.  The violation of the rights of women and girls, particularly the challenges of access to education has and will be one of the biggest challenges the international community faces.  Despite the tragedy she suffered, Malala continued to stand up for her rights, as well as the rights of others, rather than be cast as a victim or spend her life in hiding from the Taliban.   She continues to speak out for the rights of girls to be educated, despite the fact that Pakistani Taliban members vowed this week to kill her, given the next opportunity.

As for her media tour: so what?  Causes don’t get noticed unless there are interviews, speeches, compelling stories, and cries for action.  It’s also where you can find sympathetic donors to your cause.  Speaking at the United Nations gave her the ear of the entire world, and interviews with Jon Stewart and other members of the media introduced her to new audiences that may have not known about her work.  Increased awareness of one of the most ubiquitous and uncontroversial human rights violations of our time is good for everyone, because it promotes peace and security for the world.

Finally, let’s remember Malala is a person that can make her own decisions.  To simply paint a picture that this is an instance of the West saving a poor little brown girl is to deprive Malala of her own agency, and to privilege the Western (and her critics) reaction over Malala’s actions. She demonstrated multiple times last week that she is a free-thinking individual, especially when she visited the Obamas in the Oval Office and requested that the President stop using drone strikes as a counterterrorism measure in Pakistan, telling him that it led to resentment from the Pakistani people.  Reasonable people can agree that it takes some bravery to tell the leader of the free world to stop doing something.

It’s very easy to get bogged down in a debate about human rights, privilege, agency, and imposing values on others.  This is not an instance where this discussion is necessary.  To criticize Malala for being a stooge of the west, or the west for helping her become a successful advocate is wrong.  This is not about the West vs. the rest of the world, white vs. brown, the privileged vs. the unprivileged.  This is about closing the gap on inequality in global education for girls.  A world where all children are educated can only be a more beneficial and peaceful one.

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Haters Gonna Hate: UN Edition


The month of September isn’t just back to school month; it’s also back to work for the United Nations.  As the UN General Assembly begins its 68th session, it faces the ongoing problem of Syria, the looming 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and a host of other issues that would make anyone grateful that they’re not Ban Ki Moon.

Of course, Syria remains the most pressing issue, along with the frustration of the Security Council’s inability to do anything until the Permanent Five can agree on a course of action.  For the past two years, there has been a complete stalemate in the Security Council, leaving frustrated policymakers to deem the UN as a whole a complete failure.  Yes, whether we’re talking about the Syrian stalemate, climate change, or peacekeeping, no one has anything good to say about the poor old UN.

Let’s be fair: these claims of sub-par UN performance are not completely unfounded.  When world leaders come to address the 68th session of the General Assembly, there’s concerns such as whether or not Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has a warrant out for his arrest by the International Criminal Court, will show up.  In its day-to-day operations on the Human Rights Council, rotating members include shining beacons of human rights such as China, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.  We also can’t forget the UN Peacekeepers posted to Haiti after a major earthquake, who were responsible for a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened 600,000 since 2010.  These issues aside, critics have chosen to focus on the UN’s inability to even condemn Assad’s actions in the Security Council (until Obama threatened military action and suddenly Putin decided to become the peace-maker) and have declared the organization a failure, much like its predecessor, the League of Nations.

Is this fair?  Not entirely.  In the UN Charter, Chapter 1 states the purpose for its existence:

  • To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

  • To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

  • To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

  • To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

It is certainly easy to look at the current state of Syria, the 15 not-so-peaceful peacekeeping operations, and all the other issues around the world and reject the notion that the UN is fulfilling its purpose.  However, that is not, and cannot ever be, the full story.  Here’s what else the UN has done or is doing to ensure peace and security:

  1. The UN oversaw decolonization in the post-war world: The UN Trusteeship Council was established in 1945 to ensure that territories belonging to colonizing powers were administered in ways that promoted the advancement of the inhabitants of the Trust, while working towards self-government and independence.  Although it was not perfect (the status of Palestine is still in question) nor without conflict, nearly all Trusts under the UN became independent, sovereign nations, and the Council suspended its operations in 1994 after Palau became independent.
  2. The UN saves countless lives every year: Starvation, malaria, diarrheal diseases, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, TB, and gender-based violence are just a sample of the problems that result in the millions of unnecessary deaths each year.  We certainly can’t expect states to solve all of these problems (particularly if a problem doesn’t affect them), so UN affiliates and entities such as the WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNEP, UN-HABITAT, and the WFP are focused on solving the world’s most pressing issues.  The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have set tangible targets to help address these issues, and although not all of the goals will be met by their 2015 deadline, without the UN, the following would not have occurred:
    • 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990.
    • Despite population growth, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, which translates into about 17,000 fewer children dying each day.
    • At the end of 2011, 8 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV. This total constitutes an increase of over 1.4 million people from December 2010.
  3. The UN is at the forefront of the global human rights regime: Unlike the Security Council, it does not matter what country you are when it comes to the findings of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Office of the High Commissioner has never been shy about naming and shaming human rights abuses from Boston to Beijing.  The work of their special rapporteurs, independent experts, councils, and working groups have exposed human rights abuses all over the world, including in our own backyard in Guantanamo Bay.

Of course there are still abysmal failures when it comes to peace and security.  The Security Council’s actions are dependent on the interests of the Permanent Five.  But shouldn’t that mean reform in the Security Council is necessary, rather than classifying the UN as a whole as a complete and total failure. If the world wanted the UN to work, it would, because the operations of the UN are completely dependent on its members.  The UN cannot simply break itself, and does not have to be a failure if its members don’t let it.

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50 Years After the Dream: Reflecting on the March on Washington


Fifty years ago, a group of determined people led one of the largest rallies for human rights in US history.  As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it is necessary to reflect on the state of human rights, and ask ourselves: “Has Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream been fulfilled?”

It is certainly a loaded question that does not have a definitive answer.  To say that we have not come far would be a disservice to the civil rights activists of the past 70 years, many of whom gave their lives to the attainment of freedom and equality.  Their tireless work served as the catalyst for the passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which changed the lives of many Americans.  The Civil Rights Movement allowed masses of diverse people, including African Americans, women, and immigrants to gain upward mobility in a way that was not possible beforehand.  And of course, we cannot leave out the fact that on the 50th anniversary of the March, the nation’s first African American President, Barack Obama, is the one that addressed the crowd.  In a world where many civil rights leaders never believed that they would see an African American President in their lifetimes, in some ways, we have exceeded the expectations of MLK’s dream.

Although we have exceeded MLK’s expectations in some ways, the US is still embarrassingly lagging behind in others in race relations.  African Americans remain far more likely than whites to lack jobs, fail to graduate from high school, live below the poverty line, be arrested, and serve time in prison. Data compiled from the 2010 Census demonstrates that Americans are still segregated by race, particularly in cities.  Finally, NPR’s Michele Norris put it best in an article she wrote for Time:

“America twice elected a President who is black.  That’s one for the history books – but so too was the day that same President visited the White House briefing room to remind America that while the world rises up to meet him as a leader, as a black man he might have a hard time hailing a cab outside the White House.”

Indeed, America, as well as the rest of the international community, has yet to enter a post-racial world, or even a world where human rights are a top priority.  For that reason, human rights defenders all over the world must continue the work toward realizing Dr. King’s dream.  Although history has focused on Dr. King’s work towards ending racial discrimination, he also fought to end poverty, was a staunch critic of the Vietnam War, and was also an ardent supporter of the United Nations, demonstrating that there is no shortage of critical human rights work to be done, whether it is fighting racial discrimination in the US, or fighting for girl’s education in Pakistan.  For these reasons, I implore readers to sit and reflect on the work of MLK and human rights activists around the globe, and ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to a more diverse, equal, and just world.  We can and must reflect; as MLK noted in his powerful Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


The text for “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” can be found at: goo.gl/XzwCv8

You can watch and read Dr. King’s famous speech at: goo.gl/tAVArA

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The International Adoption Problem


The international adoption system has given many U.S. couples the privilege of becoming parents. Unfortunately, the system that allows this opportunity is rife with corruption and fraud. Increasingly, children adopted overseas have living family, and are in fact, victims of human trafficking.

A lack of transparency in the international adoption community has led to an epidemic of trafficked children into the U.S. under false pretenses.  The families that adopt the children do not realize they are participating in a system that kidnaps, recruits young children and buys babies for eager parents-to-be from abroad.  The abuse ranges from individual kidnappings to institutional corruption that depends upon a consistent supply of trafficked children. Continue reading

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