Marginalia: Malala Yousafzai’s Sweet Sixteen

[Full speech transcript]

We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.

Most people know of Malala Yousafzai by now. She was shot by the Taliban for encouraging female education in Pakistan and speaking out to the world through a BBC blog. She survived and is full of her usual verve and energy again – as she was in this pre-assault interview and this light-hearted one.

There is some history to her name. A 19th century Afghan-Pashtun teenager, Malalai of Maiwand, is honored as a national folk hero to this day – rather like the Afghan Jeanne D’Arc. She fought and was killed at the Battle of Maiwand against the British on the day that was supposed to be her wedding day. She was a bit older than the present-day Malala when the latter came into the spotlight. Her landays, however, spurred the Afghans on and they won that battle. She was buried with the martyrs and her grave is a shrine today. Afghan parents who name their daughters Malala do so out of a sense of honor for their national hero but also because they wish their daughters to inherit some of the same uncommon traits.

Watching this UN speech, it is clear that our present-day Malala has some of the same unflinching courage, wisdom, and maturity. More power to her.

Oh, and a few days after this speech, apparently, the Taliban sent her a letter explaining why they shot her in the head. You can read that rambling mess here. He wished to advise her, but went on to explain that she was singled out of the many school-going girls and women not because of education but because of her propaganda. Yet, he denounces education because the British started the education system as a way to make Asians more English in their ways and morals and, as everyone must know, the English are “staunch supporters and slaves of the Jews”, blah blah blah. I cannot even type out a summary without getting mad.

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