I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Malaha Yousafzai is the girl who was shot in the head at point-blank range by a member of the Taliban as she was on her way home from school. Somehow she survived. Here, with the help of Christina Lamb, a veteran reporter with decades’ experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Malala tells her story. Following in the footsteps of her father, her great desire has always been for girls’ rights to education.
Malala’s father is an educator. He struggled through poverty to obtain his own education, and he believes that it is an inalienable right for both boys and girls, an attitude that is very unusual for Pakistani men. As a young man, he opened his own school and included girls. Once the Taliban came into power in the beautiful Swat Valley where the Yousafzai family lived, all citizens had fewer and fewer rights, particularly girls. In an effort to keep the school open, high school classes were segregated by gender, girls began to cover their faces, no one wore a school uniform, and all girls hid their books under their clothes.
Malala shows how the lives of Pakistani people changed dramatically after 9/11/2001. She tells the reader that militancy became more mainstream. Malala comments that before the advent of the Taliban, she and her friends just did ordinary things like read the Twilight books. When the Taliban arrived, it was like vampires had come to life. People could be punished, even publicly flogged or hanged for simple things like singing, listening to music, dancing, wearing jewelry—and of course, going to school.
The ideas of the Taliban spread through radio, the one technology that was allowed. The Taliban had its own sort of ‘hater’ radio shows on Mullah FM. At the beginning, people liked this and agreed with the fundamentalists because they thought they could benefit from Taliban rule. The Khans had abused ordinary people and the Taliban might be a relief. If they had to obey Islamic law, at least they no longer had to put up with slow Pakistani courts and the required payment of bribes. Plus, they liked hearing about the sins of others, who were shamed on the air. People who followed strict fundamentalist rule were praised. ‘Ms. X stopped going to school and will go to heaven. I congratulate her.’ Malala describes this attitude as “religious romanticism,” in which ignorant leaders pretend to be great scholars. When the Taliban curtailed foreign aid, radio speakers announced that the polio vaccine was an American plot to make women infertile. While a free ‘education’ was offered to boys who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to go to school, this was more indoctrination than education. They learned that there were no dinosaurs, no man ever landed on the moon, and that science had no value.
I am Malala is much more than the biography of a single girl. Clearly, the Taliban and the frightening life under fundamentalist rule didn’t arrive from nowhere, and the book provides enough information on twentieth-century events that the reader can see this. The background on the British rule in India and the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim state, (separate from India), the Afghan war with the USSR, and more, show how the Middle East came to be what it is today, both politically and culturally. There is just so much packed into this ‘short-ish’ book, including a note on the Malala Fund.
I highly recommend that you read this book.
High school housekeeping: The discussion of the Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the history of ill will between Pakistan and India is a simple overview, and high school students will not only understand it, but will find it interesting (though tragic). Some of the illogical ideas of the Taliban will be clear to you. For example, young girls can go to school but only if they are taught by women. But since no women can go to school beyond the elementary level, how can they know enough to be teachers? How can women only be treated by female doctors? Where do these doctors come from?
Some of the stories in the book are hard to read, but necessary—for example, the flogging of a woman accused of leaving the house with a man not her husband.
The photos included in the book are evocative. You may be particularly emotional in viewing the image of the empty (bloody) bus where Malala and two of her schoolmates were shot.