Malala: the student becomes the teacher

Saturday 3 January 2009: I am afraid

“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.

Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban's edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.

On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. 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.”

Prophetic words

The hauntingly prophetic words above are taken from Malala Yousafzai’s now notorious blog, and were written in January 2009. The poignancy of her relief at realising that, on that particular occasion, they had not come for her is particularly agonizing now, since on the 9 October she was shot in the head and neck by a gunman on her school bus.

We refer to Malala as an activist, a human rights defender, a women’s rights advocate, a journalist, but she is, at base, just a little girl. The disparity between her experience of being 14 and that of most 14-year-olds in this country couldn’t be more profound. Her perceived “crime” was in wanting to go to school, that is all. And writing eloquently about how she thought that was a reasonable desire.

The injustice of her shooting has rallied the collective outrage of the world, and outpourings of sympathy have been swift and many. Amnesty invited people to leave a message of support for her, and we were inundated with responses. Here are a few of them

You're an inspiration. You've accomplished more in 14 years than many do in a lifetime. Stay strong you have millions on your side

It takes courage to act alone. But you are right and know it. The world is watching

We are thinking about you. I hope you are well soon. We need people like you in our world.

You can add yours here.

Our Pakistan researcher, Mustafa Qadri, has known the Yousafzai family for years. He was interviewed by Time this week, where he described the family as “ordinary people made extraordinary by this ridiculous situation”. It is an unbelievable cruelty that Malala is now infamous because she was shot at point-blank range by someone who thought she had over stepped the bounds of what girls were entitled to do.

It is reassuring, though, that within Pakistan the shooting has been roundly condemned, with the President Asif Ali Zardari declaring the shooting by the Taliban  an attack on all girls in the country and on civilisation itself. She is of course an ordinary girl, and her aspiration – to go to school – is almost pathetically humble when viewed from countries where universal education is taken as an uninfringeable right. But she is also extraordinary in courting notoriety given the risks that her diary makes it clear she was expressly aware of. That sort of bravery is humbling indeed and deserves to be notorious.

Angelena Jolie declared that she felt compelled to tell her children about Malala. Writing in the Daily Beast, she said “trying to understand, my children asked, “Why did those men think they needed to kill Malala?” I answered, “because an education is a powerful thing”.

Indeed it is, but it should not be a dangerous thing. Malala’s teacher has spoken about how Malala "just wanted the pen to be in her hand. She wanted to study. She wanted other girls to study.” There are lessons that everyone can take from this 14 year-old in terms of dignified defiance and peaceful persistence.

You can call on Pakistan's government to protect people who speak out, like Malala, here.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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