The Courage of Malala Yousafzai and the Lessons of Mingora

Malala Yousafzai

THERE ARE no words of sufficient force to summarize this week’s attempted murder of fourteen year-old Malala Yousafzai, in the northwest Pakistan city of Mingora. Yet as shocking as this savagery is, there is nothing new about it either: depravity is the business of the Taliban franchise. There are however some lessons to be drawn from the years during which the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (abbreviated as TTP and known also as the Pakistani Taliban) terrorized the Swat valley and Mingora specifically.

The rise of the Pakistani Taliban coincided with, but was not an outcome of, the American and British entrance into the Northern Alliance battle against the Afghani Taliban. Here I should remind the reader that the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan share a name and a list of enemies but little else. In structure, interests and objectives they differ, and excepting a short-lived declaration of common purpose — to fight two of the aforementioned enemies, the Americans and British — these outfits have been hostile toward one another.

Lurking in the background of their differences is the role of the Pakistani establishment, some elements of which have been happy to use Afghanistan’s Taliban for sectarian purposes against their neighbours but not so happy to have discovered the righteous rabble of Central Asia pooling within their own borders and drowning chunks of their territory. This process of “Talibanization” gradually occurred in the Swat valley while Islamabad slumbered, gaining momentum in 2004 when the so-called Radio Mullah, Maulana Fazlullah, launched his FM radio broadcasts.

At first appealing to the justified anti-government sentiments of the poor and marginalized, the radio programs soon gave way to an inwardly-focused program of aggression and misinformation. Almost as if grounded in a study of Rwanda, the campaign began with the radio targeting of undesirables and culminated in one of human history’s largest displacements — “one of the most dramatic of recent times,” according to the UNHCR’s António Guterres. The Deobandi reactionaries closed down the girls’ schools (one of which was owned and run by Malala’s remarkable father, Ziauddin), beheaded known and suspected critics, drove out the population, and planted as they always do the landmines which ensure not only present but future death and disfigurement.

Between 2004 and 2008 the distraught government of Pakistan attempted a series of peace agreements with the Pakistani Taliban. In exchange for promises of non-aggression against the government and the severing of ties with Arab and Central Asian fighters, the Taliban affiliates were compensated for battle losses and offered other material perks. The prestige attached to negotiating with Islamabad advanced the career of entreprenurial murderers such as Nek Muhammad, and the now-and-then interludes of peace provided welcomed opportunities to recruit and rebuild. Every peace agreement was followed by a new round of Taliban violence, and it was the Swat Agreement of May 2008 in particular which bought Fazlullah the time he needed to overtake Mingora one year later.

In 2009, the journalist Adam B. Ellick met Malala Yousafzai and became a friend of her inspiring and extraordinary family. I highly recommend his reflections this week on the making of a documentary in which he filmed her final day of class before the Pakistani Taliban shut down her school. In the years since, Malala Yousafzai has continued to be an astonishingly courageous girl and her family has continued to support her. This in a city where government officials advertise their resignations in the newspapers to spare themselves a violent end. Also in the years since, we have heard plans to withdraw the remaining troops from Afghanistan and to begin negotiations for a lasting peace with the Afghanistan Taliban. If there’s anything to be learned from Mingora, it concerns the dead ends to which illusions of peace can sometimes lead.

46 thoughts on “The Courage of Malala Yousafzai and the Lessons of Mingora”

  1. that some people had hurt her for wintang to go to school and wintang for other girls to be allowed to go to school. I didn’t go into the details but as we had started working on the concept of privileges already, this was something she understood and she was outraged in her 6 year old way. But, she tends to be an anxious child, so I didn’t go into the details. But every child is different and parents will know what their children can deal with and process.


  2. She’s fighting for the very things we take for granted in the Western world. Her story was so captivating and I do hope her fight makes a difference. She’s an inspiration for women around the world.


  3. Yes, you absolutely do bring up good points. Orwell said that the first caualty of war is the truth, and I’ve seen this to be so. I don’t have to imagine your example headline, because of course we’ve all read it: and I know my intial response in anything I read in a newspaper is skepticism just of the sort you recommend. Very soon in the USA the example of drones will not be hypothetical either, because this policy is getting more attenton and it’s going to be a disaster for the US government one day, I promise you. I happen to think that whatever happens in Pakistan is going to have huge worldwide repercussions, and obviously within this huge complex thing called the Pakistan government (and society) there are many competing agendas and factions. Let’s agree that everyone needs to pay attention, especially to people inside Pakistan who are telling us what the newspapers and governments won’t. The people in Pakistan who are trying to end the violence need friends and support, and I think the world’s attention brings with it a certain moral pressure that nothing else can. (I think you’ve over estimated my influence – I doubt I have any.) Thank-you.


  4. Wayne, consider the way you are feeling right now and ask yourself, do you feel the same when a headline appears saying 10 “militant” killed in drone strike? Knowing fully well that out of those 10, 8 of these people were innocent and labelled as militants by the media? If the answer is no, then you should consider what you are angry about. Are you angry about a 14 year old girl getting shot or are you angry that a 14 year old girl was shot by TTP. From what I sense is going around the world is that the people responsible for her death are of two kinds. Ones directly involved, like the TTP, and others like the govt of Pak and the western govt and media for using a 14 year old girl for their advantage. She was being used to justify a war and an operation in the tribal areas. Based on what I have read, they are going to use this thing to do an operation in N.Waziristan. Believe you me, they have succeeded in winning over the public with this. This news is being fed by the media as if atrocities of the TTP are the only problem of Pak. Imran Khan’s peace march was stopped by these very people in the government because they were scared that if he had reached N.Waziristan the truth would be unveiled to the public. If tomorrow the world starts to talk about little girls being killed in drone attacks then I can guarantee you that U.S. will have 0 support for the drone attacks. Why do they continue to enjoy 70% of the public’s support? Because this news is not propagated in the media. Why TTP are the scum of the earth? Because that is what is fed in the media. Don’t get me wrong, I condemn the things that they are doing, but you have to know how people play with our minds and you being a person of influence yourself with the blog that you have, you have responsibility to convey these things.


  5. To the killers and those who victimize women and children: there is nothing good left for you when you destroy your blessings.


  6. I’m sorry you feel this way. Yes, I confess anger is one thing I felt when I read about armed men shooting a girl, and it must have come through. I don’t think I ought to be expected to apologize for feeling it, but I can see it might be unpleasant to read. I also didn’t mean to suggest that this shooting was normal, but it’s not nonsense either – by which I mean it’s something that does happen and the reasons for it are not hard to describe. Malala criticizes people who are very determined not to be criticized. I’m well aware of Imran Khan, and I know the state is corrupt (I never suggested it is pro-religious) – but it’s also big and complex. Partly for political and personal reasons you have government officials like Salman Taseer who have spoken out against the terrorist groups and the Blashpemy law and so forth, and in come cases (Taseer is one) they have been killed. Anyways, I don’t know how much time to “blabber” either. If you don’t want to read my article, that’s fully your right. But then, why discuss this if you can’t even be bothered to do so? Best wishes to you. I really do hope the many peaceful people of Pakistan reclaim their country and drive out these few murderers. The government is not always on their side, and it’s not just a puppet either in my opinion. I oppose the drone strikes, by the way. I think they are very wrong and will cause many people to turn against those who use them (it’s not just the US).


  7. I didn’t read your whole article because I felt a sense of ignorance and anger in your writing. It is understandable, but unreadable for me. I have no idea from which part of the world you are from but wherever it is that you are from, you are ill informed. For much of my life I have lived in Pakistan and until I was there, there was much more peace. By that I mean very few of these non-sense incidents. When did it change. Well, when TTP were created. When were the TTP created? 2006, 2 years after a ruthless and bloody operation started in the tribal belt in 2004. Started by Gen Musharraf on the authority of the U.S. I don’t have much time to blabber about this but long story short we have an unstable country with the most corrupt government in its history. The government is pro secularism by the way. Former Defense Secretary of U.S. Condoliza Rice writes in her book that the 2008 Federal elections were rigged and the current ruling party, PPP, was brought in as a puppet government. If you have time, try to listen to this politician named Imran Khan, to better educate yourself. I have no sympathy for killers, may they be from the tribal areas or from California flying drones. One life is not more important than another. If you have time write a little about the drone strikes being carried out by the U.S. in the tribal areas and how many innocent and brave girls like Malala are killed everyday and are labelled as militants.
    Thanks for reading. Take Care.


  8. This poor girl. I can’t imagine my daughters being subjected to this kind of hatred and danger. I’m glad we live in America.


  9. Pakistan, like much of Central Asia and the Mahgreb and the Middle East, is in a civil war. People around the world can have their own thoughts, ideas, struggles, aspirations, and motives. The nations of this world are not mere puppets or automata, acting only as an adjunct or reaction to, or passive victim and dupe of, the United States.

    What you see today in Pakistan would be happening if the US had never come into existence. The internal fight over what sort of state to have is as old as Islam. One faction argues that the Islamic empire (caliphate) should be established here and now and Sharia should govern it; another faction argues that only the Twelfth Imam can bring this about (similar disagreements exist within Judaism, which is why Zionism is largely a secular, i.e. non-religious phenomenon). Still other factions want a secular constitution, or something else all together. Yes, the USA gets involved and sometimes in criminal ways, but they do not invent people’s thoughts and agendas. Are you going to credit the USA for inspiring secular democrats across the world (and sending troops to back them up, and die fighting with them), or just blame US foreign policy for all the world’s evils? Since you mention Pilger, I think I know the answer to that.

    As for Pakistan being a secular state, the very word is a Persian/Urdu amalgam meaning “land of the pure” (i.e. purity of Islam) and it is the modern world’s first Islamic state, expressly carved from India under the pressure of the Muslim League. Jinnah’s model of Hindu-Muslim cooperation has been subverted, but in any case it has always been a Muslim country. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many secularists in the government, but don’t pretend religion is something new that the CIA invented to get cheaper oil.


  10. Your article is not only factually incorrect, it is hugely mis-leading and almost an insult to the courgae and bravery of this young girl.

    It is almost as if you were specifically “paid” to stress upon the reader that the Pakistani Taliban and it’s attrocities are in no manner a doing or a consequence of the American and British policies in the region.

    Sadly, that is precisely the case. Here is a history lesson for you. The history you may not have learned from AP and Reuters but the history that actually happened on he ground.

    Pakistan was a remarkably moderate secular country up until the time of Gen Mohammad Zia ul Haq, a military dictator who came to power with the help of CIA in an illegal coupe against the hugely popular and elected government of prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, whom, he promptly imprisioned and then hanged to death!

    Why? What had the CIA to gain? Two things:
    1. Firstly, Bhutto was the only leader in the history of Pakistan who enjoyed such enormous public support that it was impossible to maipulate him. On top of that, he was clearly left-leaning and was building close friendly ties with China and Russia.

    2. With the arrival of Soviet forces into Afghanistan the US urgently needed a base of operations and a few thousad illeterate idiots to wage a gurella war agaist the Soviet forces.

    Thus, “radical Islam” was implanted into Pakistani society by Gen. Zia under guidance of the CIA PsyOps agents. Dozens of training camps were established where thousands of ill-educated and radicalised young “guerillas” were tranied and sent into Afghanistan. The US and western media named them “Mujahideens” at the time and they were the darlings of the west regardless of the fact that they adhered to precisely the same beliefs as today’s Taliban.

    After the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, those guerilla fighters who were now highly experienced in Asymetric warfare were used by CIA all over the world.

    That was the time and the place, where the US and CIA learned how to radicalize innocent people and how to manipulate them to fight in the name of Islam. That is what is going on to this day and what we recently witnessed in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and now Syria.

    Today’s Taliban in Afghanistan and/or in Pakistan is directly grown out of those elder guerella leaders and their clans, only now the chickens are comming home to roost.

    I could go on all night but unfortunately my time is limited.

    Read and follow John Pilger to get some practice in investigative journalism.

    Kind regards!


  11. strangely enough, i was on the bus and the person across from me was reading the newspaper, and the main image was of two women holding a sign that said “sister malala we are proud of you” – i didn’t know what it was about and was too far away to read the article but i made a mental note in my head to google it when i got to work. now i’m at work and login to wordpress and this is the first thing i see! thank you so much for sharing! what a brilliant read and a very powerful story.


  12. It takes a good deal more courage to attend school in the face of the Taliban, than it takes for an armed bully, backed by 10 or so of his “friends”, to attack and shoot an unarmed teenager.


  13. I’m severely praying for Malala, & her family. I’m a Christian & i know that the individuals who attempted to kill this courageous young woman might not recieve their punishment here on this plane, but they WILL recieve God’s judgment–I do know that Islam/The Koran teaches not to kill. All polite Muslims out in the blogsphere correct me if I’m wrong.
    Congrats on getting “Freshly Pressed”!


  14. i understand both points made by yourself and @Andreas Moser, but perhaps you didnt put it as best as you could have. you see putting it as the ‘civilised world’ you seem to give the impression that the rest of the population of Pakistan and other non western countries are not as civilised as the ‘western powers’ hence your comment was reminiscent of patronising western leaders intent on ‘saving the uncivilised of the east’. we’re not all ‘animals’ they’re a minority and sadly the good parts of countries like pakistan are never news worthy.


  15. ive just been reading the history of the sikhs…we in north america all know them as taxi drivers, in their colourful turbans and good natured demeanour…..apparently, one of their leaders a maharaja ranjit singh, has been the only person to strike terror into the hearts of the people of that area that is now policed by the taliban, namely the majority of afghanistan….something that none of the superpowers like russia and america have been able to do… of his generals, a hari singh nalua was apparently such a fierce opponent, that the afghans shuddered at his name….it is said that muslim women even as of recently frighten their disobedient children to sleep by telling them that “…nalua is coming…”.
    perhaps we need someone like ranjit singh to teach the law-breakers of the world a lesson….


  16. some souls are incarnated with greatness,
    some hearts are embodied with valour
    and some bodies are beacon of hope…
    our young innocent malala, this far, has been regarded only as symbol of resistance to brutalities metted out by TTP in name of Allah but nw it has become an ideology and ideology never dies….
    now time come when our security establishment have to seriusly revisit their defence strategies, esp of considering lunatic such as TTP(Tehreek e Thugs of Pakistan) as their strategic instrument….
    May Allah heal all the wounds of Malalla and may He enable her to be with us in full bloom, Ameen


  17. If you looked more carefully, Mr. Andreas Moser, she said “the civilized world has an obligation”….she did NOT call herself civilized. And her calling the scum that shot a 14 year old girl for wishing to pursue an education is not quite strong enough as this is an absolute insult to all animals in the world. What would you, Mr. Moser, call such people who do such things?! “Victims” It’s not enough to applaud the young girl for her bravery (as you did on your blog). These evil men and their evil worldview must be called what they are. “Don’t be a sissy” as your blog title suggests!


  18. Reblogged this on The Soulful Veteran's Blog and commented:
    I often see a bumper sticker on the back bumpers of cars on US streets that say “COEXIST”—a dream of many idealistic and ignorant Americans. I suspect this dream that we “all get along” will never materialize without much bloodshed.

    To achieve coexistence, mankind would have to kill off every violent person on the planet: every bully, every sociopath, every narcissist, and every violent idealist such as American neoconservatives, white supremacists and every American ever convicted or suspected of a violent crime, etc.

    There would have to be a blanket death sentence for all people that fit that description. Either that or we would have to lobotomize them all. As long as one violent person lives and walks free on the Earth we can never have a peaceful coexistence.


  19. Truly these are brave men, shooting a 14 year old girl in the head because she wanted an education. It’s just amazing. How do they justify these kinds of actions to themselves?

    I hope these gunmen and their bosses are somehow brought to justice and that Yousafzai can lead a full and happy life, along with the rest of her people.


  20. A wonderful and very much needed post. Many are afraid of even thinking of doing the things she has done. I cannot even begin to fathom the Taliban’s Islamic ideology when I know that Islam -and other faiths and beliefs- do not restrict a basic right as education. God only knows what can happen when women start using their minds- only destruction will ensue! I’m praying for this courageous young woman’s recovery.


  21. Excellent background to the situation in the Swat valley! Some sad and disappointing results of this infestation of ignorance, but as Malala herself has said, and I’m paraphrasing here, the cure to this illness is through education because the majority of the men in the Taliban are illiterate and uneducated. Sadly, if they keep closing schools, this may never come to fruition…


  22. She’s very courageous and inspiring. She’s just 14 and they’re trying to kill her for speaking out, outrageous and absurd. Child murderer.


  23. Absolutely; yesterday, here in Australia, there was a ridiculous debacle about feminism in our Federal parliament, it’s dominated the news when THIS should have been the most important story of the day. We have the first female prime minister in this country, and which ever side of politics you sit on that should have been celebrated in the light of a young girl on the other side of the world who is shot merely for trying to attend school and have the same limitless possibilities of equality afforded to her. Australian soldiers have died in Afghanistan in an attempt to achieve the seemingly impossible task of implementing a Western style democracy in a very different cultural context. Just as I begin to think that troops should be withdrawn, a story like Malala’s case in Pakistan reminds me why it’s so important that all eyes of the world should still focus on defending those who cannot always defend themselves. Congratulations, this was a well deserved post to be Freshly Pressed.


  24. A good post here! I covered the Malala Shooting incident in my blog as well and now when I read this, I can see that the shooting has affected people and their mindsets. Hoping for the best for the world and for Malala. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. Am astonished to see am the first commenter 😉


  25. I applaud this blog. This is why the civilized world has an obligation to eradicate these animals from the face of the Earth,


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