The 2016 Reading Challenge I have been working on includes reading a political memoir. Several times I browsed the Biography shelves at the library, trying to find one that looked at least half-way interesting – and preferably fairly short. But all the volumes I saw with names I recognized from the political area looked quite hefty, and I found it unlikely that they had that much to say that would interest me. Looking through some online book reviews confirmed my suspicion that books of this genre tend to have little value or lasting appeal.
Fortunately I discovered that the same website that lists the Reading Challenge also lists books to read to meet the challenge. And in the political memoir category, the recommendation was I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. I vaguely remember news reports from 2012 when she was shot, and later in 2014 when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but I had not really followed the stories much at that time.
This sounded much more interesting than reading about some politician taking advantage of temporary fame to publish a book, perhaps in the hope of not being forgotten quite as quickly as most. Besides, I always enjoy learning about other countries and their culture and history, and learning a different perspective on the world and life in general.
Malala’s story is very interesting. Some reviews criticize the quality of the writing, but all agree that the story makes the book well worth reading. We learn about Malala’s childhood, her family, and her father’s commitment to education for both boys and girls. We learn about the beauty of her homeland and about various traditions that shape the people’s lives. And of course, we learn about the coming of the Taliban and the way most people were too afraid to speak out against them, even while realizing that they were not the champions of righteousness that they initially appeared to be.
Considering the environment of fear and violence, it seems surprising how boldly Malala and her father continued to speak out for education, especially for girls, which the Taliban opposed as contrary to Islamic tradition. No one, of course, thought that the Taliban would really try to kill a teenage girl, so Malala felt some measure of safety. She worried what might happen to her father, but she didn’t think her own life was in danger.
What is in some ways perhaps most interesting to Western readers is Malala’s perspective on Western culture once she found herself living in England. She appreciates the freedom to be a voice for girls, not only in her native Pakistan but around the world, who do not have a chance to speak for themselves, largely because they lack education. (The Malala Fund website provides information on various initiatives to help girls in various countries and offers an opportunity to be involved through donations.)
But she misses her home, even though her immediate family is settled with her into life in the UK. She misses the beauty of the land itself, her friends and neighbors, and all the daily activities of life in the Swat valley. She is severely critical of the Taliban and of officials who allowed them to continue to oppress people, but she does not hesitate to express criticism of Western countries, including the United States, when she believes they also have hurt her people in some ways.
She condemns the Taliban’s version of Islam, explaining that their teachings often are contrary to what is in the Koran. She does not accept all the restrictions that many Muslims think are an integral part of their religion. But she loves Allah, and thanks Him for giving her the opportunities that she has. She does not feel a need to cover herself as completely as some Muslim woman do, but she always dresses modestly and is bothered by the immodest dress and behavior she sometimes sees in the West.
I have read elsewhere that there is much anti-Malala sentiment. This article lists some of the reasons, and provides answers to them. But even if some of the criticisms are valid, Malala has clearly done much to draw attention to real needs that girls have in many parts of the world, and to do something concrete for them through Malala’s Fund.