Who is Malala Yousafzia?
A young girl growing up in Mingora in an area of Pakistan known as the Swat Valley that came to be controlled by the Taliban. Her father was, at the time, running schools in the Swat Valley. He was an outspoken activist for education and teacher at the school she went to. In late 2008, a man named Aamer Ahmed Khan of the BBC URDU website and his colleagues were looking for a way to tell the story of the children and how they were being affected by the Taliban’s growing influence in the Swat Valley. The idea to find a female student to blog anonymously about her life and the difficulties she encountered was proposed and they got in touch with her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. They couldn’t find any young girls whose families were willing to put themselves or their young daughters in jeopardy, it was just too dangerous. Eventually, Malala’s father suggested his daughter, then only 11 years old.
At that time the Taliban militants led by Maulana Fazlullah were taking over the Swat Valley. In January of 2009 the Taliban banned television, music, and education for girls, among other things, and an order was issued that no schools should educate females. It was a dangerous time in the Swat Valley, Taliban members harassed residents daily, threatened to blow up girls’ schools, and ordered women to wear burkas. Writing under an alias as an online blogger, Malala described in detail the horrors endured at the hands of the militants enforcing these orders.
Malala hid her books under her bed so that she wouldn’t risk punishment from extremists. “I was scared of being beheaded by the Taliban because of my passion for education,” she told CNN in 2011. A very real fear as terrorists had beheaded policemen and hung their heads in the town square. Reprisals for all kinds of actions were common. Concerns for the safety of the young blogger required that she use a name other than her own so she published her blog as Gul Makai. She spoke out on local t.v. in interviews regarding the importance of education and against the brutality she saw from the terrorists. Even after a hundred schools had been blown up, and there were many threats on her life, she continued to speak out.
In February 2009, girls’ schools were still closed. In solidarity, private schools for boys had decided not to open until February 9th , and notices appeared saying so. In early February Malala and her brother, having been forced out of their home and into a refugee camp, returned to their hometown of Mingora where the streets were deserted, and there was an “eerie silence”. “We went to the supermarket to buy a gift for our mother but it was closed, whereas earlier it used to remain open till late. Many other shops were also closed”, she wrote in her blog. Their home had been robbed and their television was stolen.
Her father had read in the newspaper that the government and the militants were going to sign a peace deal. Later that night, when the Taliban announced the peace deal on their FM radio studio, another round of stronger firing started outside. Malala spoke out against the Taliban on the national current affairs show Capital Talk on February 18th. Three days later, local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlulla announced on his FM radio station that he was lifting the ban on women’s education, and girls would be allowed to attend school until exams were held on March 17th, but they had to wear burkas.
On February 25th, Malala wrote on her blog that she and her classmates “played a lot in class and enjoyed ourselves like we used to before”. Attendance in her class was up to 19 of 27 pupils by March 1st, but the Taliban were still active in the area. Shelling continued and relief goods meant for displaced people were looted. Only two days later Malala wrote that: “People are again scared that the peace may not last for long. Some people are saying that the peace agreement is not permanent, it is just a break in fighting”.
On March 9th, Malala wrote about a science paper that she performed well on, and added that the Taliban were no longer searching vehicles as they once did. Her blog ended on March 12th 2009.
In May, a month, after criticizing militants at a press conference, Malala’s father received a death threat over the radio by a Taliban commander.
In early July, refugee camps were filled to capacity. The prime minister made a long-awaited announcement saying that it was safe to return to the Swat Valley. Malala’s family reunited and on July 24th 2009 they headed home. When her family finally did return home, they found it had not been damaged, and her school had sustained only light damage.
With her public profile becoming more and more obvious and recognizable, the dangers facing her became more acute. She was receiving death threats published in newspapers and on Facebook even as fake profiles were created. The more public she was, the more pressure on the Taliban to act. In a meeting held in the summer of 2012 the Taliban leaders agreed unanimously to kill her.
On October 9th of 2012, while riding on a bus home through the Swat Valley with her classmates, a terrorist group following them stopped the bus and a masked gunman boarded, demanding that the other girls tell him which of the girls was Malala. He started shooting, wounding Malala and two other girls. She was hit in the head directly above her left eye, grazing her brain, the neck, and ending up in her shoulder. The bus driver raced to her uncle’s where she was in a great deal of pain and, apparently, seizing. The two other girls who were also wounded in the attack: Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, were stable enough to speak to reporters and provide details of the attack.
Offers to treat Malala came from around the world. On October 15th, she traveled to the United Kingdom for further treatment, approved by both her doctors and family. She was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, one of the specialties of this hospital being the treatment of military personnel injured in conflict. Malala had come out of her coma by October 17th 2012, was responding well to treatment, and was said to have a good chance of fully recovering without any brain damage.
Responding to concerns about his safety, Malala’s father said, “We wouldn’t leave our country if my daughter survives or not. We have an ideology that advocates peace. The Taliban cannot stop all independent voices through the force of bullets.”
Police named 23-year-old Atta Ullah Khan, a graduate student in chemistry, as the gunman in the attack, however no arrest has been made. Mullah Fazlullah, the cleric who ordered the attack on Malala, was confirmed to be hiding in Eastern Afghanistan by US sources there.
In December of 2012 there was a great deal of speculation about who would be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and Malala Yousafzai was mentioned by many who were inspired by her story. There was some disappointment when President Obama was chosen because if the panel was looking for a symbol of courage and positive change, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot and almost killed for her outspoken advocacy, would have been a perfect choice.
Now, on October 14th, 2013, she has been honored, appropriately, as the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the second Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize, the first to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and the youngest. God Bless this brave and courageous woman and the family who raised her.
“Something bad happened to you,” said Dr. Fiona. I knew I was not in my homeland
I woke up on Oct. 16, a week after the shooting. I had been flown from Pakistan to the U.K. while unconscious and without my parents. I was thousands of miles away from home with a tube in my neck to help me breathe and unable to speak.
The first thing I thought when I came around was, ‘Thank God I’m not dead.’ But I had no idea where I was. I knew I was not in my homeland. The nurses and doctors were speaking English, though they all seemed to be from different countries. I was speaking to them, but no one could hear me because of the tube in my neck. To start with, my left eye was very blurry and everyone had two noses and four eyes. All sorts of questions flew through my waking brain: Where was I? Who had brought me there? Where were my parents? Was my father alive?