Malala Yousafzai - Education and Assassination
Modern Day

Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Hadir Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Current Times…

Called Mingora in the Swat District of Pakistan where a group of well-armed grown-men were terrified. They were so afraid that they issued death threats against the person who caused them such fear. When that didn't work, they decided to assassinate the source of their disquiet. So on October 9th, 2012, an armed man got on a school bus and shouted at the wide-eyed girls, "Which one of you is Malala? Speak up or I will shoot you all!"

On that day, fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head. Two other schoolgirls, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, were wounded when the gunman fired at his target, Malala. While the bus was drowned in the screams and tears of frightened children and teenagers, the assassin fled. Under the direction of frantic teachers, the driver rushed the bus to the nearest hospital.

The two other girls who were shot that day were treated and recovered quickly, not so Malala. The bullet that hit her struck her in the head, travelled down through her neck and lodged in her shoulder near her spine. Because of the seriousness of her injury, and the swelling that developed in the left side of her brain, Malala was airlifted to Peshawar where the doctors immediately operated on her to try and remove the bullet.

Three hours later, the surgeons emerged and announced that they had successfully removed the bullet but that Malala was not yet out of danger and she was now unresponsive. A stark contrast to her earlier inability to remain still due to the terrible pain she was in.

While Malala's doctors argued about the next step of her treatment, the news of the Pakistani schoolgirl who had been gunned down in cold blood spread like a wildfire across the world. What, everyone wanted to know, had this girl done to deserve such a fate? The local Taliban branch, who claimed responsibility for the shooting, answered readily that she had defied them. First by blogging about their efforts to shut down girls' schools in her hometown, then by speaking out publicly and advocating girls' education.

Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala's father who is a school owner, a teacher and a poet, had been approached by a BBC Urdu reporter and asked if any of the girls at his school would be willing to blog about life under the Taliban. A student volunteered then quickly backed out under pressure from her family who feared discovery and deadly reprisals. Malala eagerly stepped in to fill the gap with the understanding that her identity would remain a secret.

In 2008 and 2009, Malala blogged, as "Gul Makai" (Corn Flower), about her experiences as a school girl in the Swat Valley, an area controlled by the Taliban at the time. She wrote about the sharp decline in the number of girls going to school as opposed to boys. She blogged about herself and her classmates trading in their school uniforms for everyday attire in order to hide the fact that they were still going to school. She spoke of hiding books and secret classrooms, and men with guns searching for schoolgirls defying the Taliban's edicts. Before, long the blog became very popular, not just in Pakistan but also around the world where many compared Malala's blog to the diary of Anne Frank.

In March 2009, life in the Swat District settled into a peaceful rhythm and Malala's blog came to an end. Later that year, the fighting between government and Taliban forces in the Swat Valley intensified, causing many families, including Malala's, to flee the area. While her father went to Peshawar to join the protestors lobbying for support and government action, Malala and her mother and brothers went to live in the countryside.

A couple of months later, the Taliban were driven from the Swat Valley by the Pakistani government and Malala and her family returned home. With the danger apparently over, Malala was introduced into the limelight. First, when she took part in a documentary by New York Times reporter Adam B. Ellick. Then, when she was interviewed by local and international news stations, and mentioned by name in various newspaper articles.

Around then, Malala decided that she wanted to be a politician so she could help make positive changes in her country. So she joined the Swat District Child Assembly, which was established with the support of UNICEF to give children a venue to voice their concerns. She also participated in Open Minds, a project by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which included journalism training and putting students in touch with local newspapers.

Unfortunately, Malala's activism on behalf of girls' education brought her to the attention of the Pakistani Taliban. They were angered by her public condemnation of their actions in the Swat Valley and it wasn't long before Malala started to receive death threats. Some threats were issued in local papers, others on television interviews with Taliban spokesmen, and some of the threats came as notes slipped under her door. She was even harassed on Facebook until she closed her personal account.

Despite all the threats, despite all the danger, Malala persevered. She continued to juggle a life in the public eye advocating education for girls while going to school and working hard towards her dream of becoming a politician like her role model Benazir Bhutto, eleventh prime minister of Pakistan and recipient of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.

Then one day on her way to school, a man with a gun tried to put an end to this brave young girl whose greatest wish was to have the right to an education, just like her brothers had. Even worse, the very people who attacked her on a school bus full of children tried to justify their actions using her religion, the religion of Islam. They conveniently forgot that the very basis of Islam, the very first word of Islam, the very first word of the Quran was the word: Iqra'a (Read).

Thanks to Malala and her story, many little girls today will receive an education they otherwise would not have gotten. The media coverage Malala's story garnered has jump started both local and international efforts to make education available for all girls everywhere. All over the world, many organizations such as the UN and Women in the World are honoring Malala's bravery by raising funds for schools dedicated to providing quality education for girls.

On October 15th, 2012, a few days after the initial surgery to remove the bullet was successfully completed, Malala was put into a medically induced coma then airlifted to the United Kingdom to undergo further treatment for her injuries. One the way, her brain began to swell rapidly and her heartsick family was told that perhaps it would be wise for them to begin funeral arrangements.

Fortunately, no such arrangements were necessary. When Malala arrived in the UK she was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, a military hospital that had ample experience dealing with bullet wounds. Before long, Malala awakened from her coma and was able to communicate with her family at first through notes, then by speaking, which was still difficult for her. After months of treatment and physical therapy, Malala was able to walk again, with a little assistance.

On January 3rd, 2013, once the doctors were satisfied that there was no longer any danger of infection, Malala was discharged as an outpatient and allowed to go home to her family's temporary home in Birmingham. Early in February, she returned to the hospital for two more surgeries. One operation repaired the damage to her skull using a titanium plate. The second operation was to put in place a cochlear implant in an effort to restore hearing to her left ear.

Meanwhile, the people who had tried to assassinate Malala while she was in Pakistan were now trying to assassinate her character in her absence. They claimed she was brainwashed by her father and was being used as a mouthpiece to speak against the Taliban. They claimed she was an American spy trying to undermine their efforts. Others claimed that Malala had not even been injured, that it was all just a staged show to manipulate public opinion.

Even more ludicrous, the very people who attacked Malala were saying that they had been forced to try and kill this girl by her own words and actions. The attack wasn't their fault, it was her fault for not falling silent, and it was her father's fault for allowing her to speak out, and for not heeding their death threats. Furthermore, they promised that if Malala returned home to Pakistan, they would not make the same mistake twice. This time, they promised, they would kill Malala.

In response, Malala and her family declared that they would be going home and that they would continue their efforts to make sure every child in Pakistan, both boys and girls, received an education.

Today, Malala is living with her family in a safe house in Birmingham while doctors from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital monitor her progress and help her along the road to recovery. While she recuperates, Malala keeps busy by continuing both her studies and her activism on behalf of girls' education. In fact, with help from friends and family she has established the Malala Education Fund which is already issuing it's first grant to help get girls out of domestic service and into the classroom.

In recognition of her stalwart bravery and altruism, many governments and organizations have sought to honor Malala in some way. United Nations Secretary-Generl Ban Ki Moon has declared that November 10th will be celebrated as Malala Day. Norwegian parliament members formally nominated Malala for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the youngest nominee in history. Malala was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir Prize, an international human rights award for women's freedom. She was nominated for Time Magazine 2012 Person of the Year and came in second behind US President Barack Obama. South African social rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated Malala for the International Children's Peace Prize.

In Pakistan, several schools were renamed in Malala's honor including the Government Girls Secondary School on Mission Road in Karachi. The National Youth Peace Prize, which Malala won in 2011, was renamed the National Malala Peace Prize. In India, Malala was awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial award for Social Justice. In Italy, the mayor of Rome awarded Malala the Rome Prize for Peace and Humanitarian Action.

All in all, it's clear that in her scant fifteen years of life, Malala Yousafzai has already changed the world for the better. She spoke up for what she believed in and she fought for her rights and beliefs, not with guns or bullets, but with the most powerful forces of all: words and ideas.

*Written by © 2013. Care to read or leave Comments?

  1. Names, Translations and Aliases:
    • Malala Yousafzai: (Pashto: ملاله یوسفزۍ‎), (Urdu: ملالہ یوسف زئی‎).
    • Ziauddin Yousafzai.

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