Last week, two events simultaneously celebrated Malala Yousafzai’s brave contribution to our world: The Second Annual International Day of the Girl and the winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was announced. While Malala did not end up winning the Nobel Peace Prize, she is certainly a hero whose story will not be forgotten.
Released just this October (2013), her memoir , I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, is a powerful account of Malala Yousafzai’s childhood in Afghanistan through her eventual assassination attempt and recovery.
Reading A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner (my reviews here) had given me some previous insight into life in Pakistan, but Malala’s book paints a very rich and multi-facted picture of her life in Pakistan, a country and culture that holds great mystery to most of us Americans. Malala recounts her family’s history in the beautiful Swat Valley, her parents heritage, and her parents role in the community and education system, where her father made a name for himself as a teacher.
Before she even reached her teen years, Malala had become a spokesperson for women’s rights and education in Pakistan, keeping a secret blog with BBC reporters, being interviewed on Pakistani TV shows, and creating personal connections with national authorities. This made her a target for the Taliban, though at the time she believe they would not “harm a child.” Although her area experienced an extremely oppressive time under strict Taliban rule, it was actually several years later that she was shot, at age fifteen.
The Power of a Father’s Encouragement
From her birth, Malala’s father treated her as a child capable of learning, and did not limit her education simply because she was a girl. This, I believe, set the example that Malala would need to be the voice for girls education in Pakistan. At one point in the book, she casually remarks, “I knew that any of the girls in my class could have achieved what I had achieved if they had had their parents’ support.”
This speaks volumes, especially to me as a parent.
A Peaceful Response to Violence
Malala makes several statements in the book and in her speeches that carry a theme of making peace, even in the midst of violence. Of all groups most of us believe we’d be justified in enacting violence upon, I think the Taliban would be at the top of most peoples’s lists. And that’s without encountering the fear and terror on a daily basis, such as Malala did at times.
So her thoughts are even more remarkable on what she thought she’d do if she encountered a terrorist:
“Maybe I’d take off my shoes and hit him, but then I’d think if I did that there would be no difference between me and a terrorist. It would be better to plead, ‘OK, shoot me, but first listen to me. What you are doing is wrong. I’m not against you personally, I just want every girl to go to school.’”
When she expressed the same sentiment to John Stewart on the Daily show, she left him speechless (video below):
Americans bear many misconceptions about Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I think this book is extremely helpful in providing a better understanding of the people there, and the fact that the majority of Pakistanis are not in favor of the Taliban, either. (Which makes drone attacks all the more tragic.)
I applaud Malala’s work and continued efforts, but I also think there is the danger of the rest of us foreigners of overlooking the problems at hand, and gravitating around a person while ignoring her deep and complicated life story that remains the story of many others who are not able to tell their own. While that may be a rabbit trail, I feel that this Washington Post article does a good job at addressing such concerns.
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