Nowhere is that lesson more evident than in the story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pashtun girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley who was born of an illiterate mother, grew up in her father’s school, read Stephen Hawking’s
“A Brief History of Time” by age 11 and has a gift for stirring oratory.
And nowhere did that lesson go more rebuffed than in the verdant Swat Valley, where hard-line jihadists swept out of the mountains, terrorized villages and radicalized boys, and where — one muggy day last October — a Taliban fighter leapt onto a school bus, shouted, “Who is Malala?” and shot her point-blank in the head for speaking out about her God-given right to attend school.
Malala tells of that life-shattering moment in a riveting memoir, “I Am Malala,” published this past week even as she was being cited as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Co-written with Christina Lamb, a veteran British journalist who has an evident passion for Pakistan and can render its complicated history with pristine clarity, this is a book that should be read not only for its vivid drama but for its urgent message about the untapped power of girls.
The story begins with Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the son of an imam (a preacher of Islam), who was instilled from boyhood with a deep love of learning, an unwavering sense of justice and a commitment to speak out in defense of both. Like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, Ziauddin was convinced that aside from the sword and the pen, there is an even greater power — that of women — and so, when his firstborn turned out to be a bright, inquisitive daughter, he raised her with all the attention he lavished on his sons.
Ziauddin’s greatest ambition, which he achieved as a relatively young teacher, was to establish a school where children could be raised with a keen sense of their human potential. As a Pashtun, he came from a tribe that had migrated from Kabul and settled on the lush but war-weary frontier that separates Pakistan from Afghanistan; as a Yousafzai, he was the proud inheritor of a rich legacy that could be traced to the Timurid court of the 16th century. But he was also a poor man with high ambitions and not a cent to his name.