There have been countless times throughout history when courage is met with violence. When Malala Yousafzai was just 15 years old, a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus in Northwestern Pakistan and shot Malala and two other girls. This was not a random act of violence, but a deliberate attempt to both kill young Malala, and teach a lesson to anyone else who had the courage to stand up for education and freedom, particularly for girls and women. The Taliban failed in their mission and have instead created a symbol of hope and courage.
Malala was born in Mingora in Pakistan’s Swat Valley on July 1, 1997. Soon after her birth, her father entered her name on the family register, an unprecedented move in the male-dominated society that only recognizes sons.
In March of 2007, the Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah consolidated power in Swat. In July 2008 a military campaign failed to retake the Swat Valley resulting in a wave of terror. The Taliban called for a campaign to end all government institutions, focusing their attention on girls’ schools that they believe go against Islamic teachings. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed by militants, but Malala’s school, run by her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, remained open despite being under constant threat.
On September 1, 2008 Ziauddin took Malala to the provincial capital of Peshawar for an event protesting the attacks on girls’ schools. Malala gave a speech in front of the national press titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to an Education.”
Malala began blogging at just 11 years old for BBC’s Urdu site to share with the world what life under the Taliban was like. She wrote about her dream to become a doctor, and her fears of the Taliban, but also her determination to not let the Taliban prevent her from getting the education she needed to make that dream a reality.
In May of 2009, Malala and one million other Pakistanis fled the Swat Valley in anticipation of a second military offensive. After several months of fighting in the region, Malala’s family, separated while in exile, returned to Swat in August when the Pakistani army declared the operation was over. Upon returning home, they found that their school and city were devastated.
When the Pakistani army regained control of Swat, it was revealed that Malala was the BBC blogger. On October 1, 2012, a masked gunman stopped Malala’s school bus, asked for her by name and fired four rounds into the group of girls. Two were injured, and Malala was hit with one bullet, which pierced the skin behind her left eye, traveled along the exterior of her skull, went through her neck, and lodged in the muscle just above her shoulder blade.
The attack prompted global outrage. Fortunately, Malala came out of a medically induced coma and responded well to treatment. Since the event, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari announced the establishment of a $10 million education fund in Malala’s name. The Pakistani National Youth Peace Prize Malala won in December 2011 has been renamed in her honor.
– Ali Warlich