Humbling courage of teenage girl who took on the Taliban: The inspirational story of 14-year-old who has showed breathtaking defiance in the face of deathMalala Yousafzai, 14, publicly condemned the Taliban's brutal atrocities
and campaigned like mad for girls' educationShe is now fighting for
her life after being shot in the neck and head at close range The Tehreek-iTaliban Pakistan (TTP)
accepted responsibility and promised that if Malala survives their
bullets, they will target her again
07:51 GMT, 11 October 2012
Brave: Malala Yousafzai, 14, publicly condemned the Taliban's brutal atrocities and campaigned like mad for girls' education. She is now fighting for her life after being shot in the neck and head at close range
Malala Yousafzai is 14 years old. In the past three years, she has become Pakistan’s most famous schoolgirl, the winner of numerous peace prizes and a national award for bravery, as well as an international symbol of resistance against the Taliban.
Because as they tortured and slaughtered their way through her home town of Mingora in the Swat Valley of north-west Pakistan, Malala dared to do what so few others did. She publicly condemned the Taliban’s brutal atrocities and campaigned like mad for girls’ education — first in an anonymous blog and later, when her cover was blown, in newspaper interviews and on national and international television.
Today, she is fighting for her life after being shot in the neck and head at close range while she sat with classmates on a bus in the school grounds in Mingora, waiting for a lift home after morning classes.
Witnesses said a bearded man asked for Malala by name before opening fire. Another girl on the bus was also wounded.
The Tehreek-iTaliban Pakistan (TTP) accepted responsibility and promised that if Malala survives their bullets, they will target her again. And again.
Malala, meanwhile, was whisked away by military helicopter, first to an intensive care ward in Peshawar — where doctors operated for three hours to remove the bullet and reduce the dangerous swelling in her head.
Yesterday, as she recuperated and the international community was united in revulsion at the Taliban’s latest atrocity, speculation was mounting that Malala’s next destination will be Britain.
Malala was just 11 when she started writing a blog for the BBC Urdu service in January 2009. Two years earlier, the Taliban had begun infiltrating the beautiful Swat Valley — known as the Switzerland of Pakistan and popular with honeymooners — and by 2009 they’d assumed almost total control of the previously peaceful valley, imposing Sharia law with monstrous force.
All women had to wear the burka and were banned from shopping and going to market. More than 400 schools were closed overnight. Dissenters were flogged in the streets. Militants controlled all checkpoints.
Discipline was ruthless and brutal. Men and women deemed un-Islamic were slaughtered and their decapitated bodies left hanging in the squares of Mingora as warnings.
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Heartbreaking: Hospital staff assists Malala after she was wounded in a gun attack. Taliban gunmen in Pakistan took responsibility for the shooting
But Malala, a shy and obedient girl
with dimples and huge, dark eyes — and encouraged by her father
Ziauddin, a school owner, poet and fellow educational activist — wasn’t
afraid to speak out.
scared enough to see the pictures of bodies hanging in Swat,’ she said
in an interview earlier this year. ‘But the decision to ban girls from
going to school was choking me and I decided to stand against the force
started blogging — under the pseudonym Gul Makai, which means cornflower
in her local Pashto language and which she much prefers to her own
name, which translates as ‘grief stricken’.
Malala said the blog was ‘like a mirror’ that described everything that happened to her and her friends during the occupation — how they were forced to hide books under their shawls and lived in fear of having acid thrown in their faces. How the Taliban flogged women in public and killed dissenters.
She wrote of the terrible dreams she had of military helicopters and the Taliban, and of her scarily shrinking class, as friends were too terrified to turn up at school.
Wounded: Hospital staff assist Malala Yousafzai
as she arrives at Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital after the attack in the
Swat Valley region in northwest Pakistan
Help: Crowds gathered around the hospital as news quickly spread about the attempted assassination of the young peace activist
‘My mother made me breakfast and I
went off to school,’ she wrote on January 3, 2009. ‘I was afraid going
to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from
attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27.
my way home I heard a man saying: ‘I will kill you.’ I hastened my pace
and after a while I looked back. But to my utter relief he was on his
mobile and must have been threatening someone else.’
following day, she continued: ‘Today is a holiday and I woke up later,
around 10am. I heard my father talking about another three bodies lying
at Green Chowk (crossing). I felt bad on hearing this . . . we all used
to go to Marghazar, Fiza Ghat and Kanju for picnics on Sundays. But we
haven’t been out on a picnic for over a year and a half.’
Every day produced a new, humbling entry.
January 9: ‘I switched on the TV in the evening and heard about the
blasts in Lahore. I said to myself: “Why do these blasts keep happening
in Pakistan” ’
Support: Hundreds of people gathered outside the hospital willing to give blood to save Malala Yousafzai
January 14: ‘I may not go to school again. Since today was the last day
of our school, we decided to play in the playground a bit longer. I am
of the view that the school will one day reopen but while leaving I
looked up at the building as if I would not come here again.’
The next day her school had been
closed down and she wrote: ‘The night was filled with the noise of
artillery fire and I woke up three times. But since there was no school I
got up later at 10am.
Afterwards, my friend came over and we discussed our homework.’
simplicity and the honesty of her writing propelled her on to the
international stage: ‘Some people are afraid of ghosts, some people are
afraid of spiders. In Swat we are afraid of humans. But not humans like
us — these were barbarians.’
father — who received death threats himself — was aware of the dangers
she faced. ‘It was a risk, but not talking was a greater risk than
that,’ he said. ‘A couple of times, letters were thrown in our house
warning that Malala should stop doing what she is doing or the outcome
will be very bad.
‘But Malala was never fearful. She would frequently say: “I am satisfied. I am doing good work for my people so nobody can do anything to me.” ’
Attacked: Malala Yousafzai was shot on her way home from school
Malala continued writing and campaigning even when her friends recognised her from the diaries and her cover was blown.
‘I kept going because it was the only mission I had,’ she said. ‘It was risky, but we wanted to go to school and it was our mission. We thought the Taliban did not have access to the internet and they were backward and they came from the mountains.’
She didn’t even stop when Pakistani troops arrived to launch an attack against the militants and she and her young brothers had to flee their beloved city, not knowing if they would return. Or if there would be anything to return to.
For months, the war displaced and separated her family. It was agony for Malala. ‘Leaving our home was like growing apart from our heart,’ she said. ‘Our home is our heart. It was a very difficult and bad time.’
Once the Taliban had been driven from the lush plains of the Swat Valley and the family returned, the first thing Malala did was to check that her school books and notes were intact.
Her campaigning gathered more momentum and she became bolder and bolder.
She pleaded with President Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, to intervene. She hosted foreign diplomats in Swat, held news conferences on peace and education and won a host of peace awards, national and international, and Pakistan’s highest civilian prize.
She even started work on the Malala Education Foundation — to ensure all poor girls in Swat could go to school — and planned her future as a politician.
‘I will carry on my work for the girls and I will speak out for their rights,’ she said.
Most importantly, she went back to school, where classmates called her ‘the life of the class’.
Outrage: Activists carry photographs of Malala
Yousafzai during a protest rally against her assassination attempt in
United: Women hold banners demanding education rights during a protest in Islamabad
With all she’s achieved so far in her
desperately short life, it is easy to forget that, as well as being a
‘steady, calming force’, Malala is a teenager who likes shopping and
jewellery and giggling with her friends and, given half the chance,
watching trashy American sitcoms on television.
Let’s hope she gets to do all of those things once again.
her father — who turned down offers of protection from security forces
because he believed that not even the Taliban would stoop so low as to
target a school girl — was insisting the shooting would stop neither him
nor his daughter from their work. He can’t allow the Taliban to think
for a moment that it has won.
But as a British visa was obtained for Malala and surgeons in the UK were fully briefed about her condition, there was every indication she and her family could be planning to come here for medical help and refuge.
And with Taliban death threats hanging over her, Malala will not be able to return to her beloved Swat, and perhaps even Pakistan, for a long time to come. In a recent interview, her desperately proud father said of Malala: ‘She is very committed to life. She values life.’
Let’s just hope that after all she’s been through, she has the strength to build herself a new one.
VIDEO: Moments after Malala is shot she is being taken to hospital…