It seemed entirely fitting that teenager Malala Yousafzai was absent from last week’s Anne Frank Trust lunch, despite being honoured at the event with an award for moral courage, writes Justin Cohen.
Instead of being at the Hilton Park Lane to take the much deserved plaudits in person, the 16-year-old – who was shot by the Taliban after campaigning for girls’ education in her home country – was studying at school in Birmingham. Yousafzai was specially targeted while on a school bus in the Pakistani district of Swat in October 2012, having written a blog for the BBC about her life under Taliban rule and belief in education for all and later being featured in a New York Times documentary.
Collecting the award from Skyfall actress Naomie Harris at last Thursday’s event, her father Ziauddin told around 500 guests his daughter was “honoured” to receive an accolade he dedicated to “the martyrs of the Holocaust and victims of all genocides”.
He recalled how Malala had jumped at the chance to write the BBC blog after other students and teachers declined. He also pointed out that his daughter, then just 12, had been aware of Anne Frank’s diary and that her famous work had been “a kind of motivation for my daughter”.
Saying he saw several similarities between Malala and Anne, Ziauddin, himself a global education advisor for the United Nations, he said: “She raised the voice of her people and Malala raised the voice of her people. There comes a time a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor popular because his conscience tells him it is right.”
He said both Jews and moderate Pakistanis had known suffering, with the former facing persecution at the hands of “nationalist fascists” and his countrymen at the hands of “religious fascists”. He said: “The Nazis controlled media and banned Jewish children from schools. The Taliban are trying to control media, bullying journalists and have closed hundreds of schools.”
Malala has since addressed the UN and become the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was even named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. Guests fell silent for a minute during the lunch to honour the victims of the Shoah and more recent genocides as well as those lost to violence on London streets.