Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Surviving the Taliban

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reading this book reminded me of how much I take for granted every day: Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The freedom to go to the store without needing a male escort. And the ability to get an education, regardless of gender.

"I was a girl in a land where rifles are fired in celebration of a son, while daughters are hidden away behind a curtain, their role in life simply to prepare food and give birth to children."

Malala, who is now 16, is an outspoken advocate for girls to have the same right to go to school as boys. In her native Pakistan, she lost that ability when the Taliban took over: "I was 10 when the Taliban came to our valley ... It seemed to us that the Taliban arrived in the night just like vampires. They appeared in groups, armed with knives and Kalashnikovs ... They looked so dark and dirty and that my father's friend described them as 'people deprived of baths and barbers.'"

The Taliban started bombing schools and decreed that girls couldn't get an education. Malala's father was a school principal and encouraged her to speak out. She was only 15 at the time, but threats were made against her and her family. And in October 2012, when she was riding the school bus with her friends, a man with a gun climbed aboard the vehicle and shot Malala in the head.

Amazingly, Malala survived the bullet and was able to recover. She and her family currently live in England, but Malala writes about how much she misses her home country and wishes she could return to be with her friends. Her graciousness was such that she did not wish revenge on her attacker, and instead prays for peace.

"I thank Allah for the hardworking doctors, for my recovery and for sending us to this world where we may struggle for our survival. Some people choose good ways and some choose bad ways. One person's bullet hit me. It swelled my brain, stole my hearing and cut the nerve of my left face in the space of a second. And after that one second there were millions of people praying for my life and talented doctors who gave me my body back. I was a good girl. In my heart I had only the desire to help people."

Malala's story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. I admire her courage and her tenacity, and also hope that her country will one day find peace. "Why are we Muslims fighting with each other? ... We should focus on practical issues. We have so many people in our country who are illiterate, and many women have no education at all. We live in a place where schools are blown up. We have no reliable electricity supply. Not a single day passes without the killing of at least one Pakistani."

The book is lovingly written, and I also appreciated her stories about the history of Pakistan and her people, the Pashtuns. While reading the book I realized that I knew more about the history of other countries in the region, such as Afghanistan, Iran and India, than I did about Pakistan, and it was very informative. I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in women's rights, current events, history or inspirational memoirs.

"Today we all know education is our basic right. Not just in the West; Islam too has given us this right. Islam says every girl and every boy should go to school. In the Quran it is written, God wants us to have knowledge. He wants us to know why the sky is blue and about oceans and stars ... The Taliban could take our pens and books, but they couldn't stop our minds from thinking."

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