The Courage of Malala

I lived a couple of years in Aqaba — a tranquil, conservative desert town in Jordan where the falafels were delicious and the diving was superb. Islam was predominant, but only minor friction was expressed between Shi’a and Sunnis or between Palestinians and Bedouins. The small Christian society lived peacefully among the Muslims. Aqaba is a town where the people were, in my experience, the most welcoming and kindly disposed to me a foreigner in their midst.

What does kindness mean? Among the kind people I knew was a university student who told me when his little sister turned 13 she would cover her head, and if she didn’t want to, he would make her.

Unlike in Taliban society, most Jordanian women are at liberty to receive an education. One young woman, Malala Yousafzai, has gained worldwide renown for her courage in resisting a Taliban edict that forbade attending school. For her defiance, the Taliban shot Malala and two of her classmates. That would seem a self-defeating act for the shameless assailant, as Malala relates, “Shame is a very terrible thing for a Pashtun man.”

She recovered from the shooting to write a book (with Christina Lamb): I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. The book was written to give voice to a girl’s right to education everywhere. (p. 327) She also started the Malala Fund to advance this cause. The book, however, is deemed so dangerous to student minds that it has been banned by private schools in Pakistan.

Malala at a Marxist school in Swat Valley

Malala at a Marxist school in Swat Valley

A few anecdotes about Malala attracted me to reading her book: 1) she is a socialist,1 and 2) her courage was intact when she criticized United States president Barack Obama on the use of drones.

Malala does not delve deeply into socialism in her book, but she is decidedly opposed to capitalism. She supports social justice, and she is saddened at the inequality, sexism, racism, and poverty that exists in society.

She is critical of the many Pakistani politicians who steal. “I don’t know how they can live with their consciences when they see our people going hungry or sitting in the darkness of endless power cuts, or children unable to go to school, as their parents need them to work.” (p. 74)

Yet she admires politicians like former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, despite her administrations being dogged with corruption charges, and Barack Obama, who Malala criticizes for drone attacks. (p. 256)

obamalalaAlthough the Taliban accuse her of being a stooge of the US, she does criticize the US for its violations of Pakistani sovereignty and for forcing the military dictator General Pervez Musharraf to cooperate.

Religious fundamentalism aside, Malala sees an attraction of the Taliban. The Taliban permit a dignity for many of the downtrodden that capitalism exacerbates. “Manual workers make a great contribution to society but received no recognition, and this is the reason so many of them joined the Taliban — to financially achieve status and power.” (p. 148)

Malala is brave, and she is competitive, seeking number 1 standing in school. She is also modest, saying any girls in her class could have achieved as she did with their parents’ backing. (p. 216)

SwatValleyMapMalala is a faithful Muslim, and this rings through in the book. She writes, “We humans don’t realize how great God is.” She is thankful to Allah, “I know God stopped me from going to the grave.” One might wonder, though, why God did not prevent her being shot in the first place.

Despite her ordeal, Malala professes fondness for home and the people of the Swat valley. “Kindness can only be repaid with kindness,” writes Malala. (p. 73) She assures that any visitors to Swat Valley will meet with great hospitality from the people there.

malalaI Am Malala is a biography that gives insight into, probably a somewhat atypical, Pashtun family living in the Swat valley in Pakistan — the British-drawn Durand line having separated Pashtuns between Afghanistan and Pakistan — who are forced to start a new life in Birmingham, England after the shooting.

The book is an interesting read that illuminates life in Pakistan, growing up in a Pashtun community, school life, family life, the influence of religion, intolerance, and economic hardship. Most of all, I Am Malala conveys what the courage of one young woman, although she is never alone, can achieve in raising consciousness. What emerges is the realization that when enough other people have the courage, the consciousness can transform to a tsunami of the masses — and a revolutionary tipping point will have been reached.

  1. “I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.” See “Historic 32nd congress of Pakistani section of IMT – First Day,” In Defense of Marxism, 10 March 2013. []
Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.