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

That line is a joke, insofar as she sees the humor in it; but it is nonetheless a statement of intent. She really does believe she will go back to Pakistan — “inshallah, soon” — and replies like a seasoned politician when I ask which political party she will join.

“I haven’t chosen any party yet because people choose parties when they get older. When it’s time I’ll look and if I can’t find one to join, I’ll make another party,” she says.

She is, at first, similarly noncommittal about what she thinks of conversations around the burqa in the UK.

“I don’t have a specific idea about that,” she says.

However, quickly, it is clear she does.

“I believe it’s a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear, and if a woman can go to the beach and wear nothing, then why can’t she also wear everything?” she says

Having said that, she does not think a woman should cover her face in court or in other places “where it’s necessary to show your identity. I don’t cover my face because I want to show my identity.”

This desire to be visible meant she was not at all happy, aged 12, when the BBC insisted that she use a pen name to write her diary of a schoolgirl living under the Taliban.

“I still think, why didn’t I write as Malala? But the BBC was doing it for my security. They didn’t want me to be killed for” — and here she laughs — “writing a diary for BBC Urdu. So, if you look at it in another way, they were really kind because they were thinking about my life,” she says.

She clearly believes the decision was as misguided as it was well-intentioned. You cannot campaign invisibly.

I try to draw her on the question of how she finds life in the UK, and what an average day is like. There is clearly something of culture shock — quite other than the fact that the girls in school do not see “the real Malala.” She says the environment here is different to everything she knew before — the way the girls interact, their manner of gossip and play, are all unfamiliar.

Everyone takes education for granted; school isn’t the “Aladdin’s lamp ... the doorway to a magical world” as it was for the girls in Swat. For the moment, it seems her main concern is how many A grades she will get in her GCSEs (exams taken between the ages of 14 and 16 in the UK) next year, but “the hard thing is now my life is very busy and I have so many responsibilities and duties that I need to fulfill.”

Unlikely as a 16-year-old with a burning passion for reform and education might be, there is no doubt she is entirely genuine. In fact, the points at which I found myself raising an eyebrow at her book had nothing to do with extraordinary maturity or resolve, but, rather, references to Justin Bieber and vampire-themed TV program Twilight which seem forced in by someone trying to point out that in some ways she is “a normal teenager.”

When I bring up pop culture, it’s the only time she appears to be on the back foot. She struggles to tell me names of Pakistani singers she likes, and finally comes up with “the woman who sang Ek Bar Muskara Do (“Smile Just Once”) — the name she is looking for is Munni Begum, a classical singer who did a well-known cover of that 1972 song, years before Malala was born.

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