This morning, 17-year-old Pakistani youth activist Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee did the right thing by recognizing this extraordinary young woman. She has worked tirelessly for an important cause, at great personal risk, and has already paid a terrible price for her activism, for which the Taliban attempted to murder her in 2012.
But Malala is not alone. There are thousands of Malalas, thousands of people whose quiet everyday bravery makes the world a better place but who work and live in relative obscurity. Malala's prize should honor them all. It should remind the world that there are many brave human rights activists who could use its support and whose causes need its attention, and that while Yousafzai surely deserves this award and our praise we should not forget or ignore the other Malalas who are struggling and often dying for such causes.
Yousafzai, known around the world as simply "Malala," is the youngest person to ever be awarded the prize. In 2009, when she was just 11 years old, she began to write a blog for the BBC about her experiences as a young girl living in Pakistan's Swat Valley at a time when it was contested territory between the Taliban and the Pakistani government. She focused particularly on the importance of educating girls, which earned her the enmity of the Taliban. In 2012, Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus, asked for her by name, and shot her in the head. She survived the attack, and since her recovery, has traveled the world, continuing to campaign for access to education.
Groups like the Taliban govern through brutality and fear so that they can maintain control. Defiance of that control is therefore a courageous form of activism, even if that activism takes the shape of an everyday activity, like going to school or continuing to work. That kind of quiet defiance is vital to any effective peaceful opposition, even if it is often quiet.
Malala is an especially eloquent activist, and her connections to the BBC meant that the Taliban's attempt to assassinate her became global news. But she is not alone in her activism. There are many Malalas in Pakistan and in the world.
Some of those other Malalas were her allies in the resistance against the Taliban's war on education, for which they also suffered threats and violence in response. When a school in Afghanistan's Kunduz province refused to close its doors, the Taliban warned that the school's staff and their families should "wait for death." A woman who taught in another school, this one for girls, received a letter from the Taliban threatening to set her daughter on fire and behead all of her children. Another teacher was warned that "we will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working."
And there are Malalas elsewhere in the world too, opposing their own Talibans. Through their quiet perseverance, they are building the foundations for better, more just societies. But that work often comes with a terrible price. In Iraq, human rights lawyer Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy wrote a post on Facebook that condemned ISIS's "barbaric" activities. The group kidnapped her, tortured her for days, and murdered her.
In Guatemala, Myrna Mack Chang was murdered by a death squad for criticizing the government's treatment of indigenous groups, but her sister Helen Mack Chang has continued her fight for justice. In Mexico, a group of students from a teacher's college attended a political protest and were murdered by police and armed gunmen from a narco-trafficking cartel. In Cambodia, radio journalist Mam Sonando has been repeatedly arrested and jailed for reporting on the government's abuses.
History tends to record the deeds of powerful men, but the Malalas matter too. Their acts of bravery may seem small or ordinary but they can be tremendously powerful. The Nobel Committee has honored Malala Yousafzai. The rest of us should honor all of the Malalas.