Malala Yousafzai, the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban co-wrote this book with the award-winning journalist Christina Lamb. The group felt that that the book could easily have been called 'Malala's Dad', such was the powerful influence her school teacher father had in encouraging her in her freedom of thought and expression and her right to an education
Before her shooting, she lived in the Swat Valley, a beautiful part of North Pakistan with an ugly backdrop of ignorance, corruption, conflict, school bombings, Taliban insurgency, intimidation and what Malala herself described as 'useless politicians'. The Pashtun culture speaks of 'never forget or forgive' and as an elder, her father often sort to mediate against the still prevalent, some felt medieval, notion of revenge killings. Yet Malala's Pashtum world was also generous in giving and had a hospitality code where, for instance, it was the guest who decided how long they stayed.
The group also had sympathy for Malala's mother. Though illiterate like most of her peers, in Pashtun she was always surrounded by friends dropping in to her kitchen where she felt at the heart of things. Nowadays, in Birmingham, where this doesn't happen, it must be a much more lonely life, with Malala at school and her husband now in the employ of the Pakistan embassy. Hopefully, her literacy classes will help.
We found several echoes of other books we had read. 'I am a Muslim, please' also gave insights into some of the beliefs and practices of Islam whilst the Taliban's fear of education, especially for women, reminded us of The People's Bible', and the clergy's fear of an English translation of the Bible threatening their position of power through knowledge. The intolerance of other people's ideas, which Malala and her father had to continually fight, also reminded the group of the intolerances of the past and present, be they religious, racial, national or anyone who acts, thinks or believes differently.
Malala herself we found to be a most remarkable, bright, competitive, brave and resilient young woman. She spoke to the United Nations at 16, won the Nobel Peace Prize at 17 and established the Malala Fund, to campaign for the education of girls and to empower them to change their lives and communities. After completing her own education, we were left wondering whether she will in fact return to her beloved Pashtun Valley and become a force for good in Pakistan politics. Watch this space.
Peter Green — March 2015