Monday, March 3, 2014

"I Am Malala" by Malala Yousafzai (2013)

What a remarkable book this is! I was expecting; and not looking forward to; a lengthy tome about Malala Yousafzai’s shooting at the hands of the Taliban in Pakistan. Her crime was two- fold; she was a woman, and she wanted to be educated. There are very few people who haven’t heard of this brave young woman with the idealistic father. Her accomplishments in the area of Women’s Rights are already legendary, and she is just barely 18 years old.

What makes this book a standout is that she has written a seamless history of contemporary Pakistan; from its birth as a nation in 1947; through the troubled early years, and the turmoil which has made Pakistan an ally of both the Eastern and Western powers at various times since. Even more remarkable about it all is that she seems to grasp the significance of that history as it relates to the Pakistan in which she was raised. How many Americans, of any age, can make that claim about our own nation?

After a few pages at the beginning, in which she describes the immediate event of being shot on a bus coming home from school, she moves backward in time, describing both her parent’s history as well as the political strife in which they were born. She examines how those times shaped both her parents in different ways.
Her father became an outspoken advocate of education for both boys and girls; which put him in the crosshairs of radical Islamists early on. Her mother, on the other hand, became more concerned with not rocking the boat and keeping all around her happy.

After a few false starts in opening a school in the Swat Valley; that area on the Pakistan/Afghan border which became a hotbed of violence during the American-Iraq War after 9/11; her father manages to found a school which eventually had 3 buildings and 100 students; both boys and girls. He teaches them in a secular way; everything from science to mathematics and even literature. He firmly believes that the future well-being of any society lies in the education of its youngest members.

Malala begins to fall in step with her father from an early age; delighting in pleasing him by winning contests in school for speaking in public. Ate age 11 she was already speaking on issues such as the right of girls to receive an education. By age 12 she was questioning why women were considered to be less than equal to men. She was already disputing the claims of Radical Islamists that the Quran mandated such treatment.

Encouraged by her father she began to amass a collection of prizes; some even monetary; for her work. This was all happening as the war in Iraq was heating up and spilling over to Pakistan, where the Taliban were hiding from our forces in Afghanistan. As the war progressed the Taliban were making more and more incursions into the Swat Valley, disrupting life there. This is the same area as the one where the Taliban were blowing up the ancient statues of Buddha. Malala used to play amongst those statues; a fact which served to make more real something which, for most people, had only been an abstract item in the press. That perception changes when you hear how it affected someone else’s life, especially a child’s.

The author vividly recounts the confusion attendant to living in Pakistan at the time after 9/11. As the Taliban ramped up their efforts against the “Great Satan” of the United States, they used religion as a means to extract money from the Pakistani people. Often these contributions took the form of women donating their precious wedding bangles. Those pieces of gold became bullets used in battles from which many of their own men never returned while fighting Jihad.

Malala was 16 when she was shot. Her story might have ended that day with her death. The fact that it didn’t has a lot to do with politics, as well as people who were committed to not letting this young woman die. She became a symbol of the contempt in which most of the world holds the Taliban.

Her description of life in England, where she was relocated for medical reasons, is interesting in that with all that has happened to her at such a young age, she still wants to go home. She still wants to fight for justice for her fellow Pakistani’s and women in particular. She still considers herself a good Muslim and wants to help Islamic people everywhere reclaim their religion from the fanatics who have; for the most part; hijacked it. 

This is a remarkable book written by a remarkable young woman, caught up in extraordinary circumstances. And, more than that, it is the story of the triumph of the human spirit over the forces of darkness; which would swallow us whole if we let them.

No comments:

Post a Comment