one pen, &
one book can
CHANGE THE WORLD.”
I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
I Am Malala is, most importantly, an admirable story about a girl who fought for women’s right to education and was shot by the Taliban. Additionally, weaved throughout is Pakistani history, Islamic norms and beliefs, life under Taliban control, the horrors of war, and political adversity.
The power behind Malala’s heroism cannot be condensed into mere excepts from her memoir, but in respect to conciseness and not giving away too much, I did my best to narrow it down.
*the following post contains graphic images*
I was a girl in a land where rifles are fired in celebration of a son, while daughters are hidden away behind a curtain, their role in life simply to prepare food and give birth to children (13).
If you look at a map of Swat you’ll see it is one long valley with little valleys we call darae off to the sides like branches of a tree. Our village lies about halfway along on the east.
We call our village Barkana, but really there is a necklace of three villages along the bottom of the valley – Shahpur, the biggest; Barkana, where my father grew up; and Karshat, which is where my mother lived (61).
They named it the Khushal School after one of my father’s great heroes, Khushal Khan Khattak, the warrior poet from Akora just south of Swat, who tried to unity all Pashtun tribes against the Moghuls in the seventeenth century. . . .
My father wanted us to be inspired by our great hero, but in a manner fit for our times – with pens, not swords. Just as Khattak had wanted the Pashtuns to unite against a foreign enemy, so we needed to unite against ignorance (49).
I am very proud to be a Pashtun, but sometimes I think our code of conduct has a lot to answer for, particularly where the treatment of women is concerned (66).
It was the first targeted killing in Swat, and people said it was because he had helped the army find Taliban hideouts. The authorities turned a blind eye.
Our provincial government was still made up of mullah parties who wouldn’t criticize anyone who claimed to be fighting for Islam. At first we thought we were safe in Mingora, the biggest town in Swat. . . . Danger began to creep close (121).
First the Taliban took our music, then our Buddhas, then our history (123).
The Taliban became the enemy of fine arts, culture, and our history. The Swat museum moved its collection away for safekeeping. The Taliban destroyed everything old and brought nothing new.
They took over the Emerald Mountain with its mine and began selling the beautiful stones to buy their ugly weapons. They took money from the people who chopped down our precious trees for timber and then demanded more money to let their trucks pass (124).
On 12 November Musharraf ordered 10,000 more troops into our valley with additional helicopter gunships. The army was everywhere. They even camped on the golf course, their big guns trained on the hillsides.
They then launched an operation against Fazlullah which later became known as Operation Rah-e-Haq, the first battle of Swat. It was the first time the army had launched an operation against its own people outside the FATA (131).
It was school that kept me going in those dark days. When I was in the street it felt as though every man I passed might be a Talib. We hid our school bags in our shawls. My father always said that the more beautiful thing in a village in the morning is the sight of a child in a school uniform, but now we were afraid to wear them (135).
We liked to be known as the clever girls.
When we decorated our hands with henna for holidays and weddings, we drew calculus and chemical formulae instead of flowers and butterflies (135).
If I am speaking for my rights, for the rights of girls, I am not doing anything wrong. It’s my duty to do so (141).
A group of us girls gave an interview on ATV Khyber, the only privately owned Pasto television channel, and on Dawn TV about girls dropping out of school due to militancy. Teachers helped us beforehand on how to respond to questions. I wasn’t the only one to be interviewed. When we were eleven and twelve, we did them together, but as we turned thirteen or fourteen, my friends’ brothers and fathers didn’t allow them because they had entered puberty and should observe purdah, and also they were afraid (141).
By the end of 2008, around 400 schools had been destroyed by the Taliban (144).
The days when we used to go for trips or for picnics seemed like a dream. No one would venture from their homes after sunset.
The terrorists even blew up the ski lift and the big hotel in Malam Jabba where tourists used to stay. A holiday paradise turned into a hell were no tourist would venture. Then, at the end of 2008, Fazlullah’s deputy Maulana Shah Dauran announced on the radio that all girls’ schools would close (146).
The Taliban could take our pens and books, but they couldn’t stop our minds from thinking (146).
My parents never once suggested I should withdraw from school, ever. Though we loved school, we hadn’t realized how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us. Going to school, reading and doing our homework wasn’t just a way of passing time, it was our future. . . . We believed school would start again.
The Taliban bulldozed both our Pashtun values and the values of Islam” (153).
Malala was hired to anonymously write a blog about life under the Taliban. Her first diary entry was posted on 3 January 2009 on the BBC Urdu website. Her weekly posts included personal feelings, school, day-to-day life, her dislike for the burqa, and incidents occurring in her village.
I wanted to tell people it was me, but the BBC correspondent had told me not to, as it could be dangerous. I didn’t see why, as I was just a child, and who would attack a child? . . . I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks, or helicopters. We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak (157).
“When someone takes away your pens you realize quite how important education is” (160).
“When I received prizes for my work at school I was happy, as I had worked hard for them, but these prizes are different. I am grateful for them, but they only remind me how much work still needs to be done to achieve the goal of education for every boy and girl. I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life” (309).
Taliban extremists are still at large. Terrorist attacks happen every day. People actually believe that women do not need an education. Malala continues to fight for education and the rights of women.
Comment below with moving memoirs that you have read!