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Book Review: “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban”

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malalaMichael Parks Contributing Writer

Earlier this month, a 14-year-old boy in Pakistan sacrificed his life when he scuffled with a suicide bomber intent on blowing up the boy’s school. The teenager grabbed the bomber, who then detonated his vest.

It is reminiscent of another brave Pakistani named Malala Yousafzai, whose compelling autobiography recently was acquired by the college’s library.

When one views the video on YouTube of Malala, on her 16th birthday last July, standing before the United Nations, crying out, “Here I stand!” to the Talib who tried to kill her, it is hardly believable that this is the same girl who just months before was in a hospital bed fighting for her life. The hand of the loser who shot her was shaking so badly that only one of the three shots he fired struck his intended victim. The bullet entered through her left eye, traveled down her neck and stopped next to her shoulder blade.

Although the bullet had not entered her brain, it had impacted the brain with bone fragments that caused her brain to swell. Doctors removed a section of her skull to allow the brain to expand and later replaced it with a steel plate.

She survived, and instead of silencing this young girl, the attempted murderer catapulted her onto the international stage, exponentially ramping up her already voluminous voice.

Currently living in Birmingham, England, where she recuperated from her wounds, Malala has written a book that is rich in the history, tradition, and culture of her people, the Pashtuns, an ethnic group with populations primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

She has dedicated her book to “all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced. Together we will be heard.”

The culture of Malala’s people is to revere boys and be complacent of girls. When a boy is born in the Swat Valley, the Pashtun men fire their rifles in the air and sing songs of congratulations. But a girl’s birth is met with only silence, or at best, condolences to the parents.

Girls are born to live a life of purdah, or segregation and the wearing of the veil (much of the time, Malala, the rebel, refused to cover her face). They are discouraged from going to school or doing anything other than preparing themselves for marriage and children. A woman in purdah cannot even answer her own door if the visitor is male and no other male relatives are home.

Fortunately for Malala, she was born into a family of supportive parents. Her father was a teacher, having started his own school, and spoke openly and passionately about the right of women to have an education.

Malala often accompanied her father to locations where he would give speeches on the rights of young Pakistani women. Malala, in her younger teens, would join in, and soon caught the attention of a documentary film crew. She began to become famous outside the Swat Valley, and news crews and politicians alike sought her out for a statement

Unfortunately, her activism and that of her courageous father also caught the attention of the Taliban.

Malala was 10 when the Taliban invaded and took over several cities with the Swat Valley in 2006. They imposed sharia law (a strict moral code of Islamic law, that included requiring women to wear a burqa, or full body cloak), and soon the repression of women reached alarming levels. One young woman was shot and killed by the Taliban simply for dancing. Others would be beaten or whipped if they were found outside their homes without a male relative for an escort. Some young women who did not cover up properly had acid thrown in their faces.

But education of women was of the greatest sin to the Taliban, which blew up hundreds of girls and co-ed schools in Swat.

Even after a military campaign by the Pakistani government dislodged the Taliban from power, young Talibs still remained in the valley and in Malala’s hometown of Mingora.

It was one of those Talibs who boarded her bus on Oct. 9, 2012 and attempted to silence this advocate of girls’ rights. Instead, Malala recovered from her wounds and is one of the foremost spokeswomen of her day.

She has received dozens of awards from around the world, including the International Children’s Peace Prize at The Hague last September and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize (she did not win that award).

The book is an exciting account of this young woman’s incredible journey in such a short life. Malala paints a vivid picture of life in Swat Valley, both before and after the arrival of the Taliban. Her tale is infused with stories of her faith, her family, her people, the land and its history. One can tell that Malala is a teacher at heart, and her account is rich in cultural and historical detail.

The story of her near death and the many months of painful recovery impeded by government inefficiency will leave the reader both inspired and irate, angry and grateful over a series of events that is hard not to call miraculous.

Her journey and her story are not complete. She has yet to fulfill her dream to become a teacher like her father, who had founded the school she attended in the town of Mingora, in the beautiful Swat Valley of Pakistan.

One might come away from this book with one concern. As a gifted and intelligent child, an activist, and miraculous survivor of attempted murder, Malala has been given much praise and given to believe she has a special destiny. Even her name is from an historical Pushtan figure in Afghanistan history, Malalai of Maiwand, a sort of Afghani Joan of Arc who died leading her people to a great victory against the British in the late 19th century.

Although she enjoys the life and luxuries she has in England, Malala repeatedly expresses her longing for her beautiful valley. She might leave the safety of her current home in Birmingham, England, to attempt a return to Pakistan to fulfill her special destiny. One can only hope her destiny is not to emulate her namesake and become a martyr.

The BBC documentary made when Malala was 11, on the eve of the closure of schools by the Taliban is here

Malala’s speech before the United Nations on her 16th birthday last July is here

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