Sun, Oct 20, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Interview reveals Malala’s authenticity

The Pakistani schoolgirl became a global inspiration after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban. She talks about the man who tried to kill her, why she will not give up campaigning and how she cannot be friends with her younger brother

By Kamila Shamsie  /  The Guardian

The most interesting detail to emerge about Ziauddin from his daughter’s book is his own early flirtation with militancy. He was only 12 years old when Sufi Mohammad, who would later be a leading figure among the extremists in Swat, came to his village to recruit young boys to join the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Although Ziauddin was too young to fight then, within a few years he was preparing to become a jihadi, and praying for martyrdom. He later came to recognize what he experienced as brainwashing — and was saved from it by his questioning mind and the influence of his future brother-in-law, a secular nationalist.

The information about her father’s semi-brainwashing forms an interesting backdrop to Malala’s comments when I ask if she ever wonders about the man who tried to kill her on her way back from school that day in October last year, and why his hands were shaking as he held the gun — a detail she has picked up from the girls in the school bus with her at the time; she herself has no memory of the shooting.

There is no trace of rancor in her voice when she says: “He was young, in his 20s ... he was quite young, we may call him a boy. And it’s hard to have a gun and kill people. Maybe that’s why his hand was shaking. Maybe he didn’t know if he could do it. However, people are brainwashed. That’s why they do things like suicide attacks and killing people. I can’t imagine it — that boy who shot me, I can’t imagine hurting him even with a needle. I believe in peace. I believe in mercy.”

Well, I believe in these things, too, but if someone put a bullet in my head I suspect I would be more than a little irate. Doesn’t she feel at all angry?

“I only get angry at my brothers, and at my father,” she says.

Particularly her brother Khushal, who is two years younger than her.

“I can’t be good to him, it’s impossible. We can’t ever be friends,” she says, sounding like the teenager she is.

Perhaps meditating on the value of peace and mercy is an entirely sane way of coping with bullets and invective. However, all the same, it must hurt to find yourself reviled — and not only by the Taliban. In her book she writes of how her speech at the UN received plaudits around the world, but in Pakistan people accused her of seeking fame and the luxury of a life abroad.

When I ask her about this, it is one of the only times in the conversation that she turns to Urdu to express herself: “Dukh to insaan ko hota hai jab daikhta hai kay uss ka bhai uss kay khilaf hai.” (“Naturally it’s hurtful when you see your brothers turn against you.”)

Her voice is pained, but she quickly switches to English and the more philosophical tone emerges again.

“Pakistanis can’t trust,” she says. “They’ve seen in history that people, particularly politicians, are corrupt. And they’re misguided by people in the name of Islam. They’re told: ‘Malala is not a Muslim, she’s not in purdah, she’s working for America.’ They say maybe she’s with the CIA or ISI [Pakistan’s intelligence service]. It’s fine; they say it about every politician too, and I want to become a politician.”

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