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Although I Am Malala was co-written with a British journalist, Malala’s experiences are evident, and the relations between the major themes and the author’s experiences are clear. In telling her story, Malala emphasizes the importance of education for girls, the differences in culture and religion she experienced growing in Pakistan, the dangers of being an education activist, and the beginnings of the war, not only among different parties but against her family as well.
Major Themes and Experiences
Malala’s father was always interested in learning, promoting it as one of the highest virtues, and he brought up his daughter with respect and dignity. This approach influenced Malala’s worldview, and she saw education as a developmental tool that needed to be accessible to everyone. She visited the school established by her father, expressed interest in books and stories, and openly acknowledged that she wanted to be a politician. However, the primary “female” occupations were teaching and medicine (Yousafzai 15). Her father received threats from the Taliban due to his education activism, which directly impacted Malala’s identity as an activist. When she turned 12, she became an activist as well, and together with her father, she prepared speeches about the importance of education for girls (Yousafzai 10). Her father saw the inclusion of the Swat valley to Pakistan as a negative event; Malala also saw herself as a Pashtun first and a Pakistani second. However, her love for the Swat valley and the country where she grew up is strong. As can be seen from the text, she developed coping mechanisms while living in England: She liked to imagine being in her room, she daydreamed about her country, and she talked with her best friend via Skype to find out what was happening in the country (Yousafzai 148). Her criticism of the Taliban arose from her father’s censure of Pakistan’s problems such as bureaucracy, corrupt practices, and the emergence of terrorist groups.
The social identity of Malala built upon her relations with her family, classmates, and friends from the village. The author provides a story about a new girl in class who eventually earned higher scores during exams. Malala’s realization that she was not the best student in the class resulted in tears and sadness (Yousafzai 27). Since she had been one of the best in her father’s school, she was used to seeing herself as a student who would be brilliant in any school. However, as the author acknowledges, she finds a study in England difficult because the teachers are demanding, and exercises are challenging. Here we can see how Malala’s perception of studying changed with her relocation.
When Taliban threats multiplied, and the author’s family feared attack, Malala employed other coping mechanisms: She prayed to God at night, drawing on specific verses from the Quran that guaranteed safety, and she checked every door and every room at her house to ensure that there was no intruder there (Yousafzai 118). Studying hard and rereading books was another strategy Malala used to ensure that she would not fail (Yousafzai 120). It appears that being the best and promoting education and knowledge were two of the main aims Malala had—and continues to have today.
The Major Differences
One of the main differences I saw between Malala and me was the difference in approach to education. Since learning is available for everyone in my culture, my classmates and I have never perceived school as “home,” but Malala did (Yousafzai 30). Furthermore, I have had access to modern technologies, while the author was only introduced to some of these when she moved to England. Therefore, our approach toward education and technologies is quite different: While I see it as something common and accessible for many, for Malala, education was the main goal, even a dream.
Furthermore, a friend of Malala’s father asked her if she wanted to write a blog about life under the Taliban from the perspective of a citizen, not a soldier. Malala talked to the journalist using her mother’s mobile phone, and the entries appeared on the BBC Urdu website (Yousafzai 80). I see this as another form of activism; in my life, I rarely take part in marches and other activities, although I do believe they are important. I find Malala’s courage striking because it would be difficult to be an activist at the age of 12 and surrounded by the Taliban; I am not sure I could be as brave as she is.
Insights and Observations
The book discussed different issues that made me realize how different our life is from the life of the oppressed. For example, the author casually mentions that when she was 15, she asked a little girl to buy her some food because Malala was not allowed to go outside alone (Yousafzai 31). It appears that the issues we see as outrageous are perceived by oppressed groups as everyday occurrences. This influences my motivation toward social action: Not only should we work on social issues, but we should also explain to them to members of oppressed groups to see whether they understand why these actions and conditions are harmful.
The author also describes how, during her chemistry lessons, she daydreamed about caring for a husband and not going to school (Yousafzai 104). She discusses a girl who was married off and never visited the school again. Addressing such issues as forced marriage and child marriage is also a duty of those who can intervene in such actions. Not everyone has the resources to fight against oppression; in fact, many do not view these actions as acts of oppression at all because they were taught to see such things as a usual state of affairs. It seems reasonable to assume that educating oppressed and underprivileged groups about the discrimination they face can also improve their quality of life.
Another feature of the book that I noticed was the change of narrator: It was evident that some of the paragraphs were written by the journalist, not Malala. This led me to the thought that oppressed groups need to have the ability to express themselves without additional guidance and trusteeship because their words can be censored or altered. The change of emphasis on certain facts can result in skewed data and altered opinions.
The book points out the inequality between different social groups. Privileged groups often do not take discrimination into account, and oppressed groups do not regard it as such. Therefore, oppressed groups need to have the right to talk about their life freely, and privileged groups or those who wield power need to understand how such differences shape a person’s life and perceptions of the world and self and lead to action.
Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. Little, Brown and Company, 2013.