Ten days ago, Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who has very vocally and publicly fought for the right of girls in her country to receive an education, was sitting in a school van when Taliban gunmen climbed on board and shot her in the head. Two of her classmates were also wounded.
Malala has since been airlifted to Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, England, where she remains in critical care.
Malala is from the Swat Valley region of Pakistan, an area that was invaded in 2007 by the Taliban in Pakistan, who are, by the way, different from the “Taliban” in Afghanistan. For a decent breakdown of who exactly the “Taliban” are and how they came about and what they are trying to do, you can start here and here.
When the Taliban took over the Swat Valley, they issued edicts that forbade women from going to the marketplace and that demanded the closure of all private schools for girls, including the one Malala was attending.
When she was 11, Malala wrote about what it was like living under Taliban rule for the BBC Urdu under a pseudonym. You can read her diary entries here. Her diary straddles the ordinary with the extraordinary—anecdotes about shopping for jewelry are juxtaposed with accounts of waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of artillery fire.
In the two years that followed, Pakistani military forces were able to drive most of the Taliban out of the Swat Valley region, but not without casualties—schools were torched, families were displaced, and many, many more girls and women, who have not been given the same media attention as Malala, have risked their lives to organize and fight for their basic human rights to an education, to dignity, to live without intimidation or threat of violence.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, the 21-year-old activist Noorjahan Akbar said, “Malala’s case was more horrifying because she was so young and because nobody would look at her as a threat, as a 14-year-old girl promoting education. [When someone older is attacked], people don’t think of it as news—nobody heard when Hanifa Safi was killed this summer. Everyone’s talking about Malala, which is good because it happens all the time. Afghanistan created a program to pray for her in schools. Fifteen girls had acid thrown on their face a couple of years ago… [Hundred of girls have been] poisoned in Afghan schools… because they want an education… Malala’s case has created such a buzz, and it deserves it, but so many of these cases go completely ignored.”
But now, people are talking about Malala, and we need to keep talking.
In an interview with CNN last year, Malala spoke with the resolve, confidence, and supreme calm of a social-justice activist with years of experience, whose bravery could move mountains. But at the same time, watching her in this video, I couldn’t help noticing that she also spoke with the idealism and sweet hopefulness of a young girl who was just beginning to forge her place in the world. At one point, she tells the interviewer that she would like to speak to the Taliban. When the interviewer asks her if she’s scared of them, she says, “I will show them Koran—what the Koran says. Koran didn’t say that girls are not allowed to go to school.” But she did not get a chance to speak to the Taliban. She didn’t get a chance to show them what the Koran said. She was shot in the head.
Why did the Taliban target Malala Yousafzai? In their words: “We targeted her because she would speak against the Taliban while sitting with shameless strangers and idealized the biggest enemy of Islam, Barack Obama.”
And so now the world is looking at Pakistan. Now the world is condemning the Taliban. People are outraged. People are grieving. Madonna fake-tattooed Malala’s name on her back and flashed the audience during a concert, because apparently, that’s supposed to be some kind of gesture of solidarity? Angelina Jolie is talking about how “We are all Malala.”
But are we? Do we, as first-world feminists, understand what it means to be Malala? Do we know what we mean when we say we want justice for Malala? Do we know what has been happening in the Middle East? Do we understand the conditions that led to the rise of Islamic extremism? Do we feel the same outrage and grief for Pakistani girls who have been killed or orphaned by drone attacks ordered by the United States government? Don’t we owe it to Malala, who fought for her right to an education, to educate ourselves about what is happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq?
What happened to Malala is a travesty. Her story should inspire us to demand more humanity, not less. Her story should inspire us to seek justice, to ask questions, to not be satisfied with the stories that we have been told.
Malala is undergoing surgery in Birmingham right now. She may face serious and permanent neurological and physical impairment that will affect her for the rest of her life. She and her family continue to be at risk—the Taliban have stated that if she survives, they will go after her again. They have vowed to go after her father, who is a poet and an education activist.
We, the Rookie community of staffers and readers and friends, made these get-well cards for Malala because we stand behind her. We want to tell Malala: We are rooting for you. We are scared for you. We are going to be brave for you and strong for you, and we are all fighting for the vision you so courageously proposed—one where all people have access to education, freedom, and dignity. One where all people can speak out without fear of being targeted or attacked.
We acknowledge that terror comes in many forms, and we are committed to fighting for a world without terror. You’ve inspired us, and you’ve reminded us that no one’s life deserves to be cut short because of where they were born and what they believe. You make us want to value and cherish the education that was denied to you. You make us demand our right to live in a humane world, and you remind us that there’s a long way to go.
Please get well soon, Malala. We need you. We love you. ♦