I Am Malala by Malala Yousafei and Christine Lamb
I Am Malala is a book that caught my eye when I was at McCarron Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. I was about to take my flight back to Denver, Colorado. I had no intentions of buying a book, but I could not let this one go past, so I bought it and I am very glad I did. Malala Yousafei is a young Pakistani woman who now lives in Birmingham, England, UK. She was shot by the Taliban when she was only a girl at school because of the strong belief she and her father hold that girls, as well as boys, should be educated. The Taliban consider this idea so radical and so dangerous that they shot Malala in the head, hoping to kill her and punish her father. It is not clear how the Taliban imagined that shooting a 15-year-old girl would somehow enhance their revolution, but young woman was not to be so easily silenced. She has since become the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
I Am Malala, is the fearless memoir, of Malala Yousafei co-written with journalist Christina Lamb. It begins on Malala’s drive home from school on the day she was shot in the head. “Who is Malala?” the young gunman who stopped the Khushal school van asked. None of the girls answered but the girls all looked at Malala. She replied “I am Malala”.
She was only ten years old when the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan came to the beautiful Swat Valley she lived in with her mother, father and two younger brothers. Malala had established herself as an international advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan by the time she was 11 years old, so she was targeted by the Taliban for “spreading secularism”.
This book is remarkable. Malala’s voice has the purity, but also the rigidity, of a principled person. Whether she is being a competitive teenager and noting who she beat in exams or writing about the blog she wrote for the BBC that catapulted her on to the international stage, or describing about Pakistan’s politicians as useless, Malala is passionate. Her words and views are fearless and intense. Her faith and her duty to the cause of girls’ education is unquestionable, her adoration for her father, who is undoubtedly her role model and comrade in arms, is moving. Indeed, I Am Malala is as much Malala’s father’s story as it is his daughter’s, and is a touching tribute to his quest to be educated and to build a model school. Malala writes of her father sitting late into the night, cooking and bagging popcorn to sell so that he would have extra income for his project.
Her pain at the violence carried out in the name of Islam palpable. Malala also touches the heart of Pakistan’s troubles. She writes of Swat that it was some 20 years after the partition of Pakistan from India that the Wali of the Swat Valley renounced his power and brought his kingdom into Pakistan. She describes what it means to be from Pakistan. It is a country of 300 languages, diverse cultures, religions and identities. However,the army and bureaucracy and indeed the functioning power are centralised in the Punjab, while the remaining three provinces Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtun Khwa feel like unequal shareholders in the idea that is Pakistan. Until power is fairly shared among the four provinces the threat of secession will be a cloud hanging over the country. The burgeoning power of the Taliban in today’s Pakistan should not be much of a surprise to those who understand, as Malala does, the need to redress these ethnic wounds.
Although Malala is feted around the globe for her eloquence, intelligence and bravery, she is much maligned in Pakistan. Her haters and conspiracy theorists would do well to read her book. Malala is an ardent critic of the Taliban, but she also speaks passionately against America’s drone warfare, the violence and abductions carried out by the Pakistani military. Yet, even as Malala says she does not hate the man who shot her, in Pakistan, anger towards this young campaigner is as strong as ever. Amid the bile, there is a genuine concern that this extraordinary girl’s courageous and articulate message will be used by one power or other for its own agendas.
She is young: and the forces around her are strong and often sinister when it comes to their designs on the global south. However, Malala’s fight should be ours too. We should all insist on more inclusion of women and education for all. This is a seminal memoir. I commend I am Malala to you without resevation.