Malala Yousafzai wants to return to Pakistan, keep fighting for girls
Will mark exactly a year since a Taliban gunman boarded Malala Yousafzai’s tiny school bus in the remote Swat Valley of Pakistan, called out her name, and put a bullet through the left side of her head.
Although the attack left her hovering between life and death, with months of rehabilitation and painful surgery to follow, Malala is adamant she would do nothing to change the events of that day, even if she could.
“I’m not sad about anything that happened on that day” she told Fairfax Media by phone from New York. “It was just part of my life and I must learn from that. Now I am more strong, I have got more courage than I had before. And on October 9 we will celebrate, not that on this day Malala was shot, but that on this day Malala is surviving.”
Then just 15, Malala had aroused the ire of the Islamic fundamentalists taking over the Swat Valley with her very public campaign to preserve the right of local girls to go to school.
It was a campaign backed by her father, Ziauddin, headmaster of a school he had founded in the valley’s major town, Mingora.
As the Pakistani Taliban began murdering policemen and dancers, burning television sets, DVDs and CDs, and hounding women and girls into domestic isolation, Malala began writing a blog under a pseudonym about the grim prospect of her school days soon coming to an end. The blog grew in popularity, a documentary and interviews followed, and she gained a national following. But when the first threats came in, she and her family felt their opponents would never come for a child. It was a near-fatal miscalculation.
Today, Malala and her family live in Birmingham in Britain, where she was taken for life-saving treatment after the attack. The family have found some aspects of Western life challenging, though she says “they can accept our shalwar kameez [traditional Pakistani dress] so why should we not accept their mini-skirts?”
But she yearns to return to Pakistan when she finishes her education.
“I believe that Pakistan is my homeland, and the soil of Pakistan is waiting for me,” she says. “I need to work there, I need to fight for my people, I need to work for education, and I will be [back] as soon as possible. But first of all I want to empower myself with knowledge.”
She knows the risks are great – that she is “on the top lists of the Taliban’s targets”, a fact confirmed by the Pakistani Taliban announcing just two days ago they that would try to kill her again if they found her.
But the possibility does not appear to deter her.
“I know that there are terrorists, but I must not be afraid of it, and I think that I must continue my campaign … I believe that death comes once, but if it comes early, it’s fine.”
Her courage and poise have earned accolades worldwide and led to an invitation to address the United Nations on her 16th birthday in July.
The speech, viewed by millions, drew a standing ovation, though there remain conspiracy theorists in her own country who continue to argue, bizarrely, that her shooting was staged.
Explaining her ability to speak so calmly in front of a worldwide audience, she says “when I started speaking on stage then I forget about everything. I can see the children suffering from terrorism and from poverty, I just think of those people and say, ‘Malala, speak from your heart. Don’t be nervous, be confident and say what you want to’ .”
The teenager’s face remains slightly disfigured on one side, and she can’t easily close her left eye. But she’s grateful to British surgeons who repaired her severed facial nerve. “Now I’m very well and I’m recovering every day” she says. “I’ve got my smile back. Its a crooked smile, but still, it’s a smile.”
That smile could get wider when the results of the Nobel peace prize are announced this Friday. Malala is among the 259 nominees, and the youngest ever. She’s also due to meet the Queen on October 18 and this week has published a book, I Am Malala, which tells of her childhood in a deeply traditional society struggling to come to terms with modernity, and her journey to the world stage.
“If people don’t support me personally, that’s fine, but I want people to support my cause,” she says. “That is the important thing for me.”