I’m almost at a loss of words when it comes to this book. How could anyone read it without their heart shattering?
I guess to start, I’ll be the first to admit, politics are not my favorite subject. I’ve never liked confrontation, and I rarely paid attention to international conflicts. On September 11, 2001, I was a terrified fourth grader who didn’t understand what was happening in the world- but I was mollified by the promise that American soldiers were going to protect me from the terrorists. Growing up, I realize and confess, I was put in a privileged American bubble and only heard scraps of information about the war on terrorism and the conflict in the Middle East, mostly because I didn’t seek out information.
Now, as an adult (who is still working on adulting) I’d realized that I needed to wake up and pay attention to what is going on in the world. I read the headlines every day from various media outlets (because contrary to popular belief, just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean it must be true), and form educated opinions about current events. I still keep many of those opinions to myself, but I’ve come to enjoy discussing what is happening in the world- although at times (especially under our current administration) it tends to get me down- with family and friends.
At any rate, I Am Malala has been on my TBR for a long time. I knew it was a must read, and I had heard about Malala in the news, so I was somewhat familiar with her story… or so I thought, anyway. Reading Malala’s story in her own words not only educated me on the adversity in Pakistan and it’s turbulent history, but also the culture of a woman’s life under the reign of the Taliban.
Malala introduces herself and her family, starting from the day of her attack and working backwards. Her grandfather was a traditional Islamic man who was known for his ability to give amazing speeches in their community. He raised his son to also be a strong man of faith, and despite troubles with a stammer, helped to make him a renowned public speaker as well. As Malala’s father was also a fierce believer in children’s education, and eventually started his own school despite financial and economic hardships.
When Malala was born, her father rejoiced despite the common belief that boys were more prized than girls. Malala grew up in her father’s school and loved the educational environment. She would listen to the teachers tell stories, and when old enough, became a devoted pupil. She was interested in politics and history of her country, and intrigued by human rights. In Pakistan, females were not encouraged to go to school for both religious and economic reasons, with the common mentality being that education was meant for males, and a waste of resources and money on females. There was also the traditional belief to practice purdah, where the females of the household are completely covered and hidden from males that aren’t close family. Malala’s family was more modern in this context. Her father wanted education available to girls, allowed Malala to not cover her face, and encouraged her to speak out for the right of female education.
When the Taliban took over Swat (the area where Malala lived), extreme politics overturned the government, and Malala and her father became a target for speaking out against them. Their school was repeatedly told to shut down and disallow girls, and fined for absurd reasons. The town was terrorized by militant groups raiding homes in search of forbidden property like DVDs, CDs, and TVs- anything that could counter the propaganda being promoted by the leader of the Taliban. Anyone found- or accused- of speaking against the Taliban was targeted and either killed or flogged in public and left to die in the streets. Everything was done in the name of Islam, stating that the reasoning could be found in the Quran- yet many were uneducated and couldn’t read the original Arabic text, therefore relying on the translations and interpretations. Eventually, war came to the area, displacing millions of people in Swat- including Malala and her family. Through the tragedy, Malala and her father stayed true to their beliefs that peace, not violence, was the answer, and that education should be available to everyone.
When the Taliban was driven out of Swat and Malala’s family returned home, normalcy was still difficult to find, and everyone was still living in fear. However, Malala put on a brave face and continued to speak out- reaching locally and internationally- advocating for female education, ignoring the threats on her life. Though she was only fifteen, she was wise beyond her years and had faith in the Islam she knew, not the one projected by extremists. Then, one seemingly normal afternoon, Malala was shot.
As Malala tells her own story, I struggled to fight the heartbreak. This teenager lived in a paradise that she watched transform into a living hell, and survived the nightmare of it all, not losing an ounce of her faith or giving an inch in her beliefs. She is an absolute inspiration, and I was both in awe and shock as she recounted her short 16 years on earth. I personally would go to bed at night after reading a few chapters and have nightmares just from what I had read. As I said before, I live a privileged life, and even my imagination can’t handle what Malala went through.
I absolutely think I Am Malala is a must-read. We owe it to her, and to those who went through, and continue to go through, the fight on terrorism and the fight for basic human rights.