A commentary on her book - I Am Malala
In many ways, the story of Malala Yousufzai – 16 years old, shot in the head and neck and undergone major brain/skull and neck surgeries – defies belief. A person undergone skull removal, whose brain has swollen and who is in induced coma (pg 126); diagnosed with Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC) (pg 130); flown to the Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham, on the 15th of Oct, in a state of induced coma; and on the 16th, her brain was good enough to think, ‘My father has no money. Who will pay for all this?’ (pg136).
Though most brain injuries are known to produces physiological, cognitive, emotional, psychological and behavioral changes, Malala seems to have had none; rather, even in her unconscious mode, she seems to remember each and every word said to her, when her mind barely started waking up, and that is really a good thing. It is also known that the effects of a brain injury can be extremely widespread, impacting all areas of a person’s life and requiring extensive medical and rehabilitative treatment; and it defies medical science how this miraculous girl would turn out not only normal but ready for a socio-political career, having remembered in her book such nitty-gritties of extensive idea in broad-base avenues as no average child of her age would be able to recollect. For instance, what would a school-child of Mingora, Swat, know of an unpopular writing of a liberal scholar like Hassan Abbas, who is scarcely known to the Pakistani public, where he has discovered from his personal knowledge that Z A Bhutto used to call Zia ul Haq ‘his monkey’?
In fact, Malala, in her incredible memory of things her father used to say, has gathered a story that scarcely misses out anything from the popular rhetoric of Pakistan bound Liberals – be it the Hudood Ordinance, or hate for the Army, or preference of ethnicity over nationhood, or deeming that blasphemy should be tolerated for the sake of freedom of speech, or deeming the creation of Pakistan to be a miscalculation, or the accusation that the history in our textbooks has been falsely written, or satirizing the attraction of the 72 virgins waiting in the heavens. She criticized the Burqa, and even though she wears a full dress with dupatta around her head, she expressed regret over Zia’s restricting women who played hockey in baggy trousers instead of shorts. She even regrets ‘deeniyat’ being replaced with Islamiyat, though she missed hearing from her father how the two are different.
She discusses the hanging of Bhutto by a military dictator, the Arabization of Pakistan through Saudi funding of the Madrassas, the Islamization ventured by Zia and the ‘enlightened moderation’ of Musharraf. She points out that the Quaid was a Shia, that Khomeini set a fatwa against the life of Salman Rushdie, that Bin Laden was not detected in the nine years he was in Pakistan, and that (in clean-up operation of Swat) Swat was being sacrificed for the sake of Pakistan.
She appreciated the Queen coming to Swat, the smiling statues of Buddha, Gandhi over Jinnah and even mentions a poem her father wrote with the words, ‘When the voice of truth rises from the minarets/ The Buddha smiles/ And the broken chain of history reconnects’, apparently suggesting that all religions are universally the same and perhaps it is the same if one is a Buddhist or a Muslim.
Specially spewing hatred against Zia ul Haq, she mentions from her father’s memories how he tried to impose Namaz on the common people, how Jihad was emphasized so much that it felt like a 6th pillar of Islam in addition to the first 5, with the notion that it is actually not a good thing. She even adds a highly personal comment on Zia, describing him beyond basic ethics expected from a child her age, as, ‘…a scary man with dark panda shadows around his eyes, large teeth that seemed to stand to attention and hair pomaded flat on his head.’
Zia was not alone detested in her father’s sight; he despised the whole Pakistan Army. The short book is filled with numerous statements, bluntly against the Army. Here are a few:
‘My father said the Taliban presence in Swat was not possible without the support of some in the army and the bureaucracy.’
‘The army is doing nothing about it. They are sitting in their bunkers on top of the hills. They slaughter goats and eat with pleasure.’
‘..an army Brigadier went to prayers led by Fazlullah.’
‘At regular intervals along the road we passed, army and Taliban checkpoints were side by side. Once again the army was seemingly unaware of the Taliban presence. “Maybe they have poor eyesight”, we laughed, “and can’t see them”.’
‘One soldier had written corny love poems in one of my classmates’ diaries.’
‘Fazlullah had been captured but the Army and ISI couldn’t agree on what to do with him… the intelligence service had prevailed and taken him to Bajaur so he could slip across the border to Afghanistan.’
‘Our army, which already had a lot of strange side businesses like factories making cornflakes and fertilizers, had started producing soap operas… they wanted to show off themselves as heros.’
‘Hundreds of men had gone missing during the military campaign, presumably picked up by the army or ISI, but no one would say.’
‘…her brother had been picked up by the army, put in leg irons and tortured, and then kept in a fridge until he died… they’d been confused by his name and picked the wrong person.’
‘..no one really knew which side the ISI was on and someone might have tipped off bin Laden before they reached him.. my father said it was a shameful day.. intelligence services must have known his location.’
‘Our own …ISI had virtually created the Taliban.’
‘Not only did our army and ISI have long links with the militants, but it meant our army would be fighting their own Pushtun brothers.’
And it goes on and on… Malala’s father was particularly not fond of Pakistan or being a part of this country from the beginning, so much so that she asks her father, ‘Would it have been better if we had not become independent but stayed a part of India?’ She recalls, ‘My father and his friends had nothing to celebrate, as Swat had only suffered since it had merged with Pakistan. They wore black armbands to protest, saying the celebrations were for nothing, and were arrested.’ Malala’s father said that if our politicians hadn’t spent so much money on building an atomic bomb, we might have had enough for schools.
And coming back to Malala’s first thought as she opened her eyes in the Birmingham Hospital, ‘My father has no money. Who will pay for all this?’ – it is a pity that Malala’s father did not get the chance to tell her that the nice Queen would not take any charges from them; Malala was special, she was to address the UN, Obama was to come and meet her, she was to have a day dedicated to her that is going to be called the ‘Malala Day’ and Ban ki Moon was to call her ‘his hero’. Gordon Brown, Angelina Jolie, Megan Smith were all to be her fans. In fact, the world’s top PR consulting firm, Edelman, took the responsibility of her PR; Ashutosh Munshi , an Indian, would be her media strategist and Christina Lamb would be her biographer, the same Mrs. Lamb who had been deported from Pakistan on serious allegations in 2001. And nothing for the other two girls who were shot with her in the same van?
All this celebration of Malala was a good thing, but only if not to be used as a face-saver for all the atrocities of the war that has been waged upon the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the name of ‘War on Terror’. Malala, our daughter, would still be our pride if celebrating her did not mean compromising the thousands of deaths from drones used by the US/NATO upon our innocent people on the same soil they picked Malala from. Does championing one Malala make the whole Europe and the United States good in the eyes of the world? And is she going to be used now as another weapon against the pride and survival of an already war-torn people?
Above all that, was innocent Malala the only way left for the liberal lobby to further their ideas? Can Malala herself, belonging to the meager living conditions of Mingora, have been a full-fledged proponent of liberalism at such a tender age? Surely Christina Lamb’s fill-up and the induced memories of Malala’s father add disgrace to injury; in entitling Malala to this highly politicized commentary, wherein no paragraph is left without raising a new issue, Malala is no more left an innocent 16 year old, shot by the Taliban on her way to school. The Birmingham experience has taken away all that and confronted her with the ideology of Pakistan, the sanctity of the Quaid, the respect of the institutions and the simple love for one’s country that every individual is entitled to. The agenda of this book is not of innocent Malala’s; it is the agenda of a vast machine that surrounds her at this time