“Families in Charlestown are gathering on Bunker Hill monument on Sunday October 14 at 5:30 pm to hold a vigil for Malala Yousafzai. Please try to attend and spread the word, all welcome,” read the email circulated by the Pakistani Association of Greater Boston on behalf of Joanne Samuelson, a Boston resident who works at M.I.T.
The drizzly weather cleared away allowing the sun to come out in time to endorse the gathering at this historic spot in Charlestown, Boston, the site of a major battle between the revolutionaries and the British colonists.
Vigil organiser Joanne Samuelson handed out candles to participants, mostly local residents, joined by some members of the Pakistani community coming in from nearby Cambridge as well as further afield, like Dr Jamila Khalil, an ethnic Pushtun, who is with the Association of Pakistan Physicians of New England (APPNE), a former Charlestown resident. She drove about an hour from the suburb where she now lives, bringing her two teenage children to the event.
She said she had organised this vigil to show solidarity with Malala Yusufzai, and to pray or meditate for her quick recovery.
“Swat is not the wild west,” said Michael Semple, the Irishman married to a Pakistani who is a fluent Pushto speaker and attended the vigil along with his father who is visiting. “It is known for its tranquillity and beauty. Its people are cultured, peaceful and educated. I have taken my father there many times to visit.”
Semple, currently a Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and has long worked on issues related to militancy in the area. “I was there in 2009 when the Taliban takeover began, and later when the army drove out the Taliban.”
“But why are they targeting girls? Why are they afraid of her?” asked a perplexed man, holding a small dog.
“Terror tactics,” replied Semple. “The first move of these militants is to target schools, close education, and build upon old conservative ideas giving fraudulent religious reasons. They’re not individually frightened of this girl, but she spoke out, and they used her to target others. This is about tyranny versus rights. It’s time to show solidarity and that’s why I’m so touched that so many of you have come out there today for that purpose.”
The bottom line, as he said, was that it is a simple moral issue: “It is wrong to shoot a 14-year old girl. Even if she survives, she has been robbed of her childhood.”
A Pakistani student at the vigil spoke passionately about the need for the army to do its job against the militants, holding that “those soldiers whom the Taliban killed are shaheed (martyrs).”
“We will not allow violence against women and girls,” said Cheryl Hammond, who works with a health care plan in Boston. “Our voice is her voice now.” She added that she is sick of violence being done to children because of who they are, everywhere in the world.
She added that she is sick of violence being done to children because of who they are, everywhere in the world.
“I hope she feels better,” said one little girl holding a candle. “I hope she doesn’t die.”
“And was she wise to speak out?” an adult asked her.
“Yes,” replied the child firmly.