They can shoot a body, but they cannot shoot my dreams

By CNN Updated at 2013-10-17 23:26:08 +0000
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When Malala Yousafzai woke from the coma the Taliban put her in, she was aware of only a few things.

“Yes, Malala, you were shot,” she told herself.

She thought back to her dreams – of lying on a stretcher, being in some distant place far from home and school – and realized that they weren’t dreams, but recollections.

“The nurses and doctors, everyone was speaking in English,” she recalls. “I realized that now I am not in Pakistan.”

All Malala Yousafzai wanted was to go to school.

But she lived in an area of Pakistan, the Swat Valley, where the Taliban had effectively taken over governance, and imposed its harsh ideology – of no music, no visible women, and certainly no girls in school.

For defying their will, and refusing to stay silent, the Taliban tried to murder Malala, then a 15-year-old girl.

Miraculously, she survived, and has continued speaking truth to power about education, extremism, and equality.

Almost a year to the day after the attempt on her life, Malala, and her father Ziauddin, spoke with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in front of a live town hall audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

The Taliban, she told Amanpour, “say that we are going to fight for Islam. … So I think we also must think about them.”

“And that's why I want to tell Taliban [to] be peaceful,” she said, “and the real jihad is to fight through pens and to fight through your words. Do that jihad. And that's the jihad that I am doing. I am fighting for my rights, for the rights of every girl.”

When she woke up from her week-long coma she asked for her mother and father by writing on a piece of paper; she had a breathing tube in her throat that prevented her from speaking.

“The first thing I did was that I thanked Allah – I thanked God, because I was surviving, I was living,” she told Amanpour.

“They told me that your father is safe and he will come soon, as soon as possible,” she recounted.

“And the second question that was really important for me and about which I was thinking - who will pay for me? Because I don't have money and I also knew that my father is running a school, but the buildings of the schools are on rent, the home is on rent … then I was thinking he might be asking people for loans.”

A 15-year-old girl, a week after being shot in the head by the Taliban, was worried about how her medical bills would be paid.

Extraordinary circumstances

Malala was ten when the Taliban came to the Swat Valley, she writes in her memoir out this week, “I Am Malala.”

“Moniba and I had been reading the Twilight books and longed to be vampires,” she wrote. “It seemed to us that the Taliban arrived in the night just like vampires.”

The Taliban started broadcasting nightly sermons on FM Radio. Everyone started calling it “Mullah FM.”

In the beginning, their messages were guidance on living that appealed to a devout audience, including Malala’s mother.

Slowly, they became more radical, urging people to give up their TVs and music.

Then, Malala told Amanpour, the Radio Mullah – as they called him – made an announcement that the young schoolgirl could not possibly abide.

“‘No girl is allowed to go to school,’” she recalls him saying. “‘And if she goes, then, you know what we can do.’”

They congratulated the girls that heeded the call.

“‘Miss So-and-so has stopped going to school and will go to heaven,’ he’d say,” she wrote.

And you had only to walk around her hometown of Mingora, in the Swat Valley, to see what would happen if you crossed them – women flogged in the street, decapitated men lying in the gutter.

But Malala defied the call. She went to school as normal, and listened to the Western music – Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez – of which she was fond.

She replaced her school uniform with plain clothes, to avoid attention; she wore a Harry Potter backpack, as shown in a documentary by Adam Ellick of the New York Times.

At one point, a Pashto television station interviewed some school children, including Malala, about life in Swat. Soon thereafter, she spoke to a national broadcaster, Geo TV.

“I did not want to be silent, because I had to live in that situation forever,” she said, nearly screaming the final word. “And it was a better idea, because otherwise they were going to kill us – so it was a better idea to speak and then be killed.”

A producer from the BBC approached her father about having one of his teachers blog about the experience of living under Taliban rule; instead, Malala volunteered herself.

“On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you,’” she wrote on January 3, 2009. “I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”

Daddy’s girl

You cannot really tell the story of Malala Yousafzai without talking about her father, Ziauddin.

In most Pakistani families, Ziauddin told Amanpour, when a girl is born, “a kind of sympathy is expressed with [the] mother,” an acknowledgement of the fact that boys are vastly more valued than are girls.

Not so for Ziauddin.

“I usually tell people, don’t ask me what I have done,” he said. “Just ask me what I did not do. That is important. The only thing which I did not do, and I went against the taboos, and I went against the tradition – that I did not clip the wings of my daughter to fly.”

It is impossible to stand with Ziauddin and his daughter and not feel, as if by osmosis, the soul-wrenching love he feels for his daughter.

“She's the most precious person for me in my life,” he told Amanpour. “And we are not only father and daughter, we are friends.”

But to ask Malala, it is Ziauddin’s personal courage, not his devotion to her, that has fueled her determination most.

“I also remember the time of terrorism, when no one was speaking, and my father dared to speak, and he raised up his voice,” she said. “He was not afraid of death at that time. And he still not is.”

Ziauddin, an English-teacher by vocation, ran the girls’ school, Khushal School, that Malala attended.

“You blast my school and you will say, ‘Don't condemn it.’ It's very difficult,” Ziauddin said of the Taliban. “You kill my people and say don't say anything.”

“I think better to die than to live in such a situation,” he told Amanpour. “I think that it's better to live for one day to speak for your right than to live for a hundred years in such a slavery.”

Even when she had an international media profile, Malala worried that the Taliban would come for her father, not her.

“I was worried about my father, because I was not expecting Taliban to come for me,” she said. “I thought that they might have a little bit manners, and their behavior would be – somehow they would be like humans.”

It was Ziauddin who encouraged Malala to speak up, and allowed her to give TV interviews, blog for the BBC, and raise her international profile.

Did he, Amanpour asked, feel at all responsible for the violent attack that almost ended his daughter’s life?

“No,” he said emphatically. “Never.”

Pakistan’s government, he said, “could not protect four hundred schools in Swat. They should be repenting that they could not protect the girls to be flogged. They could not protect the infrastructure of Swat to be sold and they could not protect the men to be slaughtered in the square. Why should I repent?”

The politician

When Malala was young, she wanted to be a doctor. She got good grades, she told Amanpour – and not just because her father was the school principal, she chuckled – and in her community the studious girls could become one of two things: a doctor or a teacher.

Ziauddin, no doubt with some mix of affection and recognition that she was a prodigy, encouraged her to speak up and think about going into politics.

Soon, she started to like the idea.

“I realized that becoming a doctor, I can only help a small community,” she said. “But by becoming a politician, I can help my whole country.”

And, with a wry sense of humor that surprised and delighted the town hall audience, she added that many doctors in Pakistan “have to treat patients who are being injured, who are being killed. So I want to go and stop those people who are doing killings. So it’s also like helping doctors.”

And yes, she added, “I want to become a prime minister of Pakistan.”

The nuclear family

So much attention has been focused on Malala and her father – so progressive in their cause – that it is easy to forget the mother and two brothers who have stayed almost invisible to the public eye.

“The first and the important thing in my life is that I raise my voice – against my brothers,” she joked. “I am, like, the only daughter. So it's very necessary to fight against them and to raise our voice against them.”

Her mother, who is devoutly religious, has been supportive of her cause, Malala said, but just has maintained a modest profile.

She grew up illiterate in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, and English, literate only in her local mother tongue.

“I used to write poems to her,” Ziauddin admitted, blushing.

Malala rescued her father from further embarrassment.

“A father must not share it in front of his daughter,” she said through a broad grin, “because the daughters learn from parents.”

Malala said her mother used to take her to the market and scold her for not properly covering her head.

“She used to tell me, cover your face. See, that man is looking at you,” Malala told Amanpour. “I said, mom, I'm also looking at them!”

“We love our culture,” Ziauddin said. His wife, he said, has “always [had] her scarf. And this is not something imposed. This is cultural.”

“For me, all cultural and traditional things, they are very lovely when they don't go against human rights. So that is simple.”

The fateful day

On October 9, 2012, Malala was on the white bench of her Toyota TownAce school van on her way home from school. She had just taken an exam, and was happy to be chatting with her friends.

Two men stood in the middle of the road, blocking the van’s path. One started speaking to the driver.

“Another boy, he came at the back,” Malala told Amanpour. “He asked, ‘Who is Malala?’ All the girls, they got furious. No one could understand what he is saying, because we were thinking about our next day exam paper. And on that day we were having a gossip, who would get the higher marks, who would get the lower marks.”

“He asked ‘Who is Malala?’ He did not give me time to answer [the] question. … And then in the next few seconds he fired three bullets. One bullet hit me in the left side of my forehead, just above here,” she said, gesturing to the left side of her forehead.

“My two other friends,” she said, “they were also shot in their shoulders. … That was a really sad news for me, because if I was shot, that was fine for me. But I was then feeling guilty that why they have been the target. So it was really sad for me to hear.”

The next time she saw the light of day, she would be lying thousands of miles away, in a British hospital.

The world knows ‘Malala’

“I didn't know that - that the whole world was praying for me, and are still praying for me,” Malala told Amanpour. “Not only the people of Pakistan, not only Muslims, not only Pashtuns, but everyone prayed for me.”

Not only are there prayers, but celebrities from Madonna to Angelina Jolie, leaders from Gordon Brown to Queen Elizabeth II have offered public and emphatic support.

The Queen, in fact, has extended an invitation to Malala and her father for a royal visit.

Of course she will go, Malala joked, “because it's the order of the queen – it’s the command.”

“When people write on Twitter, we support Malala, it does not only mean” they are just supporting Malala, the person, she said. “They're also supporting my cause. It means that the whole world is taking an action for girls' education, for the education of every child.”

The cause

“In Swat, before the terrorism, we were going to school,” Malala told Amanpour. “It was just a normal life and carrying a heavy bag and doing homework daily and being good and getting high marks.”

Why are we going to school, she and her friends asked themselves.

“When the terrorists came, when they stopped us from going to school, I got the evidence,” she said. “And they showed me a proof that, yes, the terrorists are afraid of education. They are afraid of the power of education.”

That power has sustained her through life under unimaginably harsh conditions, through an assassination attempt, through the alien world of book junkets and shouting reporters and flashing cameras.

“They did a mistake, the biggest mistake. They ensured me, and they told me, through their attack, that even death is supporting me, that even death does not want to kill me.”

“The thing is, they can kill me. They can only kill Malala. But it does not mean that they can kill my cause, as well; my cause of education, my cause of peace, and my cause of human rights. My cause of equality will still be surviving. They cannot kill my cause.”

“They only can shoot a body,” she said, “but they cannot shoot my dreams.”