By Jamila Cassim Karolia
The first time I came into contact with the story of Malala Yousafazai was when it was reported in the media that she was shot by the Taliban on the morning of Tuesday, 9 October 2012 on a school bus. Her attempted assassination sent shock waves throughout the world. This young girl was fifteen at the time. This was the injuries that she sustained: A bullet hit the left side of her forehead, travelled under her skin the length of her face and into her shoulder. She remained critical and unconscious; when stabilized she was flown to England to receive medical attention at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham for intensive rehabilitation. According to the tabloids she was shot because of her views of advocating the rights of education for women¹.
This article will attempt to deal with who was responsible ultimately for this gruesome attack .Could it have been avoided? What were the forces at play? Do we condemn those that allowed this heinous act to play out or do we laud her for her bravery?
Malala Yousafzai is a Pashtun girl who was born on the 12th July 1997 in the town of Mingora in the Swat district of Pakistan. Her father, a school teacher, Ziauddin Yousafzai owns a chain of privately run schools in Pakistan mostly in the Swat valley. Her schooling came mostly from her father who himself was an education activist¹.
She was brought into the limelight by a BBC reporter Abdul Har Kakkar who discovered her in early 2009.His assignment was to find a courageous schoolgirl willing to share her experiences of the Taliban. Her father was willing to offer her services to the BBC under the pseudonym “Gulmakai” (Corn flower). It was entitled “The diary of a Pakistani school girl”. The diary detailed Malala’s life under Taliban rule, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls² According to Wikipedia sources, Malala started speaking about education as early as September 2008 when her father took her to Peshawar to speak to the local press. She openly addressed her audience with the words “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” in a speech covered by newspapers and television channels throughout the region.
Her cover was blown by New York Times reporter Adam Ellick who featured her in two videos describing her family life as well as showing her at school. In her subsequent meeting with US AF-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke in 2009, Malala was allegedly said to have asked the envoy if the US could assist in providing education in the region; the image of her with the UN envoy as well as her father went viral on the internet². Were they- Adam Ellick and Richard Holbrooke- not to blame for putting Malala in harm’s way? Also, events beg the question: why would her father risk his 15 year old daughter facing the wrath of the Taliban?
So, who are the Taliban? The Taliban is defined by international sources as an Islamic fundamentalist political movement, its origin being in Afghanistan³. This movement allegedly claim to follow “strict Sharia law”- Some may say a one-sided traditional school of thought which has misinterpreted the actual teachings of the Quran. They are notorious for their brutal treatment of women and do not believe in educating them. Furthermore, the Taliban have been accused of using terrorism as a specific tactic to further their ideological and political goals³.
So where exactly in Pakistan were the Taliban operating at the time of Malala’s attack? Their influence prior to 2006 was concentrated mostly in the Northern region of Pakistan. The Swat Valley where Malala and her father resided was a liberal-progressive region where a lot of privately-owned schools remained unharmed. The political control, conflict and turmoil had always been in Pakistan between the government (led by Pakistani Prime Minister Pervaz Musharraf)) and the Taliban who fought for control over the different regions within the country. Things started getting more volatile when Musharraf killed more than 150 members of the Taliban at the “Red Mosque”. In Swat things started turning after 2007. The Taliban, who had already forced school closures in government-owned schools, started making their presence felt by building Madressa’s (religiously-based schools) and attacking police stations in the region. Malala’s father’s schools were open up until 2008. Later in 2009 (feb 15th) the Taliban sent an ultimatum that private schools should be closed⁴.
Against this backdrop Malala emerges as a public spokesperson in favour of equality in Pakistani education. The New York Times airs that spring, and Malala and her father become internationally famous for their work on education. Our own Bishop Desmond Tutu in October 2011 nominated Yousafazai for the International Children’s Peace Prize. She has become famous and received a lot of awards. She was invited by President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle at the Oval office (11 Oct 2013); here she had brazenly criticized drone strikes and directly challenged President Obama on this issue stating that, “it creates more terrorism”⁵.
Given the above information, it is in my opinion that Malala Yousafzai, in her noble quest to highlight the need for women to access education, was used by the western media for their own ends. Their practice of hypocrisy is evident in the continuous drone strikes in Afghanistan where innocent children die every day; they call it “precision strikes”. Interesting to note however, is that on that fateful day when Malala was shot, two other classmates were also shot at; no mention was made of them. Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz were also shot with Malala; the media and politicians seem to have forgotten about them².
From a critical perspective one has to consider whether the West has killed more girls than the Taliban have? Could we not consider that the West have denied more girls an education via their missiles, than the Taliban with their bullets?⁵
Malala’s message is true, it is profound and it is something the world needs to take note of; education is the right of every child, but it can be argued that Malala has been used as a tool by the Western media. It allows countries like Britain to hide their sins in Afghanistan and Iraq. It allows journalists to report feel-good stories whilst they neglect so many others, like the American drone strikes that terrorise men, women and children in Pakistan’s border regions⁵ Although she has achieved fame and recognition for advocating women’s rights, there has been little or no change in the mind-set of the Pakistani regime or their politics for that matter.
In conclusion, I commend and laud Malala’s actions, although it came at a price. Fear of reprisal have made people complacent and accepting of their fate. The Taliban as an organization have no right to prevent women from obtaining education.
It is a sad reflection upon Muslims and the religion of Islam. Knowledge is an important pillar upon which the edifice of Islam has been raised. “The very fact that the first revelation upon the Holy Prophet( blessings and peace be upon him) contained the commandment to ‘ read’, speaks volumes of the emphasis Islam places on education. Within Islam there is no disagreement found on acquisition of knowledge being binding and obligatory. The importance and excellence of knowledge has been highlighted both directly and indirectly in over five hundred places in the holy Quran. Indeed one of the essential duties and responsibilities of Prophethood was the dissemination of knowledge and wisdom to all”⁶. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran (2:151):
as also We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger, to recite Our signs to you and to purify you, and to teach you the Book and the Wisdom, and to teach you that you knew not (al Baqara, 2:151) (http://www.minhaj.org/english)
² Bangash, Z; Crescent International, vol 4. No 9:2012, Pg 9-12
Further reading on Malala Yousafzai: