Pakistan’s private schools have banned Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography because, they say, it disparages Islam. What is really so dangerous about a girl who wants an education?
It has emerged that the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, which is thought to control more than 40,000 schools across Pakistan, has banned the recently released “I am Malala” for fear that it will have a “negative” effect on children because, they say, it is not entirely respectful of Islam.
“The federation thought we should review the book, and having reviewed it we came to the decision that the book was not suitable for our children, particularly not our students,” federation president Mirza Kashif is quoted as saying. “Pakistan is an ideological country. That ideology is based on Islam. [...] In this book are many comments that are contrary to our ideology.”
The federation has also claimed the book is a “tool of the West.”
As a result, the book won’t be stocked in the schools’ libraries or be part of the syllabus. State schools, while not having banned the book, have also said they will not be using it as a teaching resource. It is unclear just how sincere these concerns are or whether they are motivated by fear of religious extremists who have already vowed to attack book shops stocking Malala’s biography.
The Rise of the Malala Icon
Malala Yousafzai gained global fame as the teenager from the town of Mingora from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province who was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban gunman on October 9, 2012, as a result of her high profiled activism to ensure young girls receive an education.
Since what seemed like an almost certainly fatal attack, Malala has made a remarkable recovery in her new home in the UK, and has gone on to become a global icon. Her peaceful demeanor and formidable intellect have contributed to the crafting of an almost legendary status, and she has solidified her presence on the global human rights stage by continuing to campaign for the right for young women to access education facilities.
While embarking on a wide reaching media tour, Malala has addressed a number of important events, including the United Nations, where this past July she delivered a speech to coincide with her sixteenth birthday. At the event, Malala said:
“The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. … The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens. They are afraid of women.”
The Smear Campaign Against Malala Yousafzai
Despite American and many European nations perceiving Malala as a force of good, within Pakistan Malala’s name carries a somewhat sour note.
Some have accused that Malala is no more than a political tool for western governments. The book in particular has received criticism from within Pakistan because it is a joint project with British journalist Christina Lamb — this being supposed evidence of outside interference.
Of course, parallels are being drawn between the censorship of Malala’s story and that which was endured by Salman Rushdie, the author of “The Satanic Verses,” which shortly after its publication in 1988 caused violent protests and provoked death threats against Rushdie. A fatwa was even issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the then Supreme Leader of Iran, forcing Rushdie to live in hiding for a number of years.
The comparisons have been further exacerbated by the fact that in Malala’s own book she defends Rushdie’s right to free speech, a subject that still remains contentious for many within the country despite an official narrative being that the attack on Rushdie was wrongheaded. Critics from within Pakistan have also said the book is disrespectful to Islam for many reasons but also because in places the book fails to use the abbreviation for “peace be upon him” (PUH) when referring to the prophet Mohamed.
Just as Malala’s fame has risen, so too have conspiracy theories and smear campaigns, with some of Pakistan’s conservative leaders claiming that Malala’s injuries were faked in order for the West to further some sort of political agenda.
Yet in reality Malala’s only agenda appears to have been the cause she started and the rights she has tried to win: ensuring that young women get the education they need and deserve.
There is of course the worry, though, that all this fame and fawning might place too heavy a burden on Malala. She is, after all, a 16-year-old girl who, while remarkable, is still young. What’s more, with fresh threats issued by the Taliban, Malala’s promising life is still in danger and if she stays in the spotlight, might remain so.
What is so dangerous about Malala Yousafzai, then? It is precisely what made her the subject of global attention. The Taliban shot a teenage girl for daring to defy their edicts on women and education but because she survived, the Taliban had inadvertently provided her with the keys to the world stage. Now, Malala is a woman who will not be silenced, and to some that is very dangerous indeed.