This was a dark time in Malala’s life: the country was in chaos, and she felt unsafe in her own town. She didn’t feel comfortable wearing her school uniform, since the uniform was a sign that she was being educated, and thus, in the Taliban’s eyes, dishonoring Allah. Nevertheless, Malala began high school. She continued to do well on her exams, usually defeating her rival, Malka-e-Noor. She had trouble with mathematics, but excelled at writing and theater. She wrote an amusing sketch based on Romeo and Juliet. Malala notes that the sketch was popular, in no small part because laughs were few and far between at the time.
Here we see that the Taliban have, in some ways, been successful in their goals: they’ve used terrorism to inspire fear and anxiety in millions of people, showing them that they’re in danger of losing their lives if they persist in attending school. At the same time, Malala refuses to give up on her education as Tor Pekai did. She continues attending school, encouraged by both her father and mother. Selfless as ever, she uses her intelligence and quick wit to bring happiness to others.
Across Pakistan the Taliban started blowing up schools for girls. When Malala heard about this she was horrified, unable to believe that anyone could do such a thing. At one point in 2008, a girls’ school was blown up almost every day. In February, Malala was sitting in her kitchen when she heard an explosion: a suicide bomber, she later learned, had blown up a chunk of the Haji Baba High School, not far from Malala’s school. Malala asked Ziauddin if he was frightened, now that the Taliban violence had reached his home. Ziauddin replied that they had to remember their courage and refuse to give in to the Taliban’s intimidation.
At times Malala is tested in her brave decision to continue going to school. On these occasions, Ziauddin plays an invaluable role in encouraging her to continue learning. It’s easy to forget that Malala is only a small child here (not even ten years old at the time). One might even conclude that Ziauddin is wrong to force his child to continue attending school: he should try to save Malala’s life by forcing her to stay home from school every day. But Ziauddin’s love for education is so great that he refuses to cave in to the Taliban’s demands.
In response to the escalating violence in Swat, Ziauddin joined with a group of elders who wanted to challenge Fazlullah’s interpretations of the Quran. Although Ziauddin was far younger than the other men in this group, he was chosen as a spokesperson, since he was known to be an eloquent and courageous man. In the coming months, Ziauddin made a series of popular speeches denouncing Fazlullah. He accused Fazlullah of destroying Swati culture and ruining Pakistani lives. Ziauddin encouraged the common people of Swat to resist Fazlullah’s influence, often reciting the famous Martin Niemöller poem, “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist…” Malala worshiped her father for his bravery and eloquence.
While it could be argued that Ziauddin endangers Malala’s life to encouraging her to go to school, it’s equally apparent that he’s trying to protect her from the Taliban with every speech he delivers. By criticizing the Taliban in the most withering terms, Ziauddin reduces the number of new recruits to which the Taliban have access, and thereby makes it more difficult for them to continue terrorizing the country. As always, Ziauddin uses art and literature to stress his points. This is especially poignant because the Taliban fear any kind of creativity or free thought, and yet at this point it often seems that guns are stronger than poetry.
At school, Ziauddin organized a peace march, in which most of the girls agreed to participate. A local television station stopped by the march and asked to interview the students. Malala, along with many of her classmates, answered questions from reporters. Malala later realized that this was a bold move for the station: Pakistan was under great pressure to depict the Taliban in a positive light, and interviewing the girls whom the Taliban threatened made the Taliban seem inhumane. In one interview, Malala said, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” Malala’s passionate statement later appeared on televisions across Pakistan. Ziauddin told Malala that he was very proud of her.
We see that Ziauddin’s bravery has paid off: he’s inspired other people, such as the radio broadcasters in this section, to speak out against the Taliban as well. It’s unnerving that the media are being “pressured” into supporting the Taliban—their right to free speech is being infringed upon in an overt way. This is also an important section because it marks the beginning of Malala’s career in the public spotlight. Thus it introduces a new element to the memoir—that of Malala dealing with herself as a public persona, and struggling with the power and temptations of fame.
On October 7, 2008, Malala heard explosions not far from her home. These turned out to be bombings at the Sangota Convent School for girls, a famous institution that had educated women for nearly a century. Following the bombing, Ziauddin gave interviews in which he denounced militant extremists with particular furor. By the end of the near, the Taliban had bombed nearly 400 schools for girls across the country. Following Bhutto’s death, the government had fallen under the control of President Asif Zardari, Bhutto’s widower. While he continued his wife’s opposition to the Taliban, life in Swat continued to deteriorate.
At this time in Pakistan’s history, the government becomes increasingly divorced from the realities of Pakistani life. There’s a sense that it doesn’t matter who’s in power, whether it be Bhutto, her husband, or Musharraf—in any case, the Taliban will continue killing innocent people. This way of looking at Pakistan, of course, discounts the role of people like Ziauddin, who use their power and influence to oppose the Taliban.
Ziauddin allowed his relatives from other parts of Pakistan to stay with him in his house. As a result, Malala’s home was suddenly very crowded. She quarreled with her visiting cousins and her brother, Khushal, almost constantly. At the end of 2008, Fazlullah made a sudden announcement: Ziauddin’s girls’ school would close. He warned women to avoid going to school after January 15. Malala didn’t take this threat seriously, because she saw her father’s bravery, but many of her friends believed that their lives would be in danger if they continued to attend school.
Ziauddin is often an idealist, but, as we’ve already seen, he’s a realist when he has to be. He’s not willing to allow young girls to die because of his beliefs—and in this sense, he’s entirely different from Fazlullah and the other Taliban leaders. Though it causes him great pain to close down his own school, Ziauddin has no choice but to give in to the Taliban’s threats of violence—he has to protect his children’s lives before he can advance the causes of equality and free education.