By now we’ve all heard of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year old Pakistani education advocate who was attacked on her school bus last week by the Taliban. It happened in the largest village in the Swat valley and left her almost dead from shots to the head and neck. This week she was flown to a Birmingham hospital in England that is a specialized facility that treated British soldiers wounded in Afghanistan. Over 50 Muslim clerics have denounced the Taliban assassins.
So much has been written on this young heroine that we need not say anything more here – except for one thing. In a statement released just prior to the shooting she spoke of a change of priorities in her young life. “I had always wanted to be a doctor, but now I want to be a politician.” Impressive stuff for someone so young, but then again she has grown up in a region that ages a person before their natural time. Why take on the gruelling goal of politics? “To save my country,” she put simply. There is no better reason.
But how can we get Canadian young people, or citizens in general, to take up her challenge? Canadians are affirming in poll after poll that they are growing increasingly concerned, not only over the direction of our nation, but worried at the lack of any solutions to intractable problems like youth unemployment, the lack of future jobs, environmental decline, a stress-out healthcare system, the lack of financial security, or even the morbid state of our political life.
We require the media’s help with this – a responsible, reasoned, non-partisan effort to raise Canadian consciousness to the level of working solutions once more. The greatest challenge facing the media today is to convince the children and adults of modern technology not only that politics matters, but that they matter to politics. As a trend, media has been so successful at convincing citizens that democracy is deformed that it now can’t seem to assure them that political involvement is the only way out of our present malaise. In this the media must accept a large part of the blame for democracy’s decline – they have grown adept at living off of the political climate without engaging citizens in a manner to assist in reforming it.
It is only natural to state that politics itself has become its own worst enemy. What it presently offers is so unpalatable and offensive that Canadians are tuning out in droves. Citizenship can’t exist in a vacuum. In order for it to be at least able to pursue its highest ideals it must exist in a political environment which affords it the ability to capture and enact those dreams. Politics refusal to heal itself has escalated things to such a degree that ordinary citizens are despairing of the entire political structure itself. More and more people are opting for the outlook that politics is incapable of fixing anything.
Yet the country Malala lived and almost died in – Pakistan – is no piece of cake either. Why then would she change the course of direction in her young life from medicine to politics? Deep down we know the answer: in even the most challenged countries, political reform is the only long-term solution people have. Politics exists to resolve the largest questions of society. At its very best, politics creates and sustains social relationships, makes for economic prosperity and productivity, assists us in making our way into the larger world, and defends our interests with fairness and equity. At its worst it becomes the tool of the elites. Instead of comprehending and accounting for the popular process, governments are now increasingly responding to the narrow channels of power and money. The national welfare becomes eclipsed by parochial and partisan ideologies. In such a state, governments suffer for their failure to integrate citizens into the governing infrastructure. In this day and age of instant communication through the Internet, this becomes a death knell for politics overall.
In a recent American election, one U.S. Senator spoke with a refreshing sense of candour: “This city (Washington D.C.) is full of people who don’t like themselves, don’t like their jobs and don’t like their constituents, and I mean actively don’t like their constituents. And so they only entertain them in ceremonial formats. Everyone knows it’s fake.”
Well, it’s time we had people who do actually like their communities and who are willing to enter politics to serve them and not just the party or an ideology. But it is service, not ruling, and you will earn respect by moving downward in service instead of upwards in political prestige. Our communities await our own version of Malala. So many decent and talented people are refusing to run because of how politicians (and I was one myself) have ruined the franchise and introduced us to ongoing losing seasons. But how will we rescue ourselves? Recall Plato’s counsel in his Republic: “The heaviest penalty for declining to govern is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”
If a girl of 14 is willing to take on the Taliban in the arena of politics in one of the most troubling parts of the world, then we have no excuse. Our political system is yet salvageable, but we need people to enter it and make their mark. Political assassins exist everywhere. We now require noble citizens to enter the fray. Consider running.