Pervez Hoodbhoy


How can one read this marvelous book and remain unmoved? It is a good-humored tale of grit, courage, and determination. A 14-year old girl, passionate about education being every child’s right, is shot in the head and nearly killed but miraculously recovers. She makes it to the world’s highest forum where she gets a standing ovation from all including the United Nations Secretary General, and sets her life’s mission to fight the forces of demented Islamism.


One senses the deft hand of Christina Lamb behind I Am Malala. But this shadow-writing impacts only the form, not the substance of a precocious and courageous child’s autobiography. Malala’s child-like radiance shines through the book – the joy of being at school, her back-and-forth with her school-friend Moniba, the fear that her school would be closed down by the Taliban, the feeling of dread at night on hearing distant explosions, and the horror at headless corpses strewn around Mingora’s khooni chowk.


After the army operation against the Taliban in 2008, over a million people fled Swat. Malala’s family was among them. Ziauddin, her father, was a marked man for owning and operating a school – the Taliban had blown up hundreds of schools and executed teachers. In her book Malala says wants to become prime minister someday, believing that only good politics can bring peace to Swat and Pakistan. Why not?


The book is not without flaws. Malala sometimes chooses to give opinions on matters about which she has no direct knowledge. One that particularly struck me was her pronouncement of Benazir Bhutto as a paragon of parsimony, based upon her wearing cheap glass bangles at her wedding! Perhaps she never heard of this kleptomaniac’s treasures hidden around the world, or about the Surrey Palace and her Swiss bank accounts.


Sadly, this remarkable book will be little read in Pakistan. Few books are; reading and thinking are fast disappearing habits. There were even widespread doubts, propagated by some TV anchors, that she could have been shot and still survived. It mattered little that, shortly after the event, a joint statement of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Harkat-e-Islami Uzbekistan took credit for the attempted killing. Their joint spokesperson said she would not be allowed to escape the second time around, and gave a set of detailed arguments why she must be killed.


Pakistanis are welcome to call her a dupe, a willing tool for evil Western forces seeking to badmouth Islam and Pakistan. They buy into the paranoid notion that Pakistan’s enemies are paving the way towards destabilizing the country, followed by an invasion to snatch our precious nukes. Some call her an “Illuminati Psy Op” or “Malala Dramazai”, a pawn in the hands of men like Richard Holbrooke, Gordon Brown, and Ban Ki Moon. Let them hurl still viler abuses if they so want – they make fools of themselves and justly deserve the scorn of those with civilized values. After all, ours is a nation where the butcher Hakeemullah Mehsud is a shaheed and Al-Qaida’s Aafia Siddiqui is “daughter of the nation”, persecuted because she stood up to the Americans. But Malala sits in the lap of imperialism and thus deserves abuse, denigration, and perhaps another bullet.


Malala’s enemies are equally likely to be Islamists or America-obsessed leftists and post-modernists. These days it is so hard to tell them apart. (The author teaches physics at FC College in Lahore; the above book review from Herald is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use)


(Herald,  December 2, 2013)

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