In 2009, Malala is 12 years old. This is the year in which, by her own reckoning, she begins actively fighting for justice and equality. Yet as January 2009 begins, the violence in Swat becomes even more apparent. The Taliban begin killing Swati civilians and leaving their bodies in the middle of town. They murder a woman named Shabana, a popular dancer and singer in Malala’s town. Shabana was a symbol of Swati art and music, Malala thought—by attacking her, the Taliban are voicing their opposition to women’s rights, but also to freedom and creativity. Malala has a hard time understanding how the Taliban could represent themselves as good Muslims while also threatening to kill all those who aren’t Muslim. It’s impossible to intimidate someone into becoming Muslim, she maintains.
In the previous chapter, it seemed that violence in Pakistan had reached a peak in the death of Benazir Bhutto. Now, it seems, the real violence is only beginning, as women are killed in increasingly gruesome ways. While the Taliban defend these actions as necessary aspects of Islamic law, it’s hard not to see them for what they really are: sexist, reactionary attacks on women who assert their power and authority in the public sphere. Malala reminds us that this is the opposite of what Islam really teaches.
There is remarkably little response to Taliban atrocity in Pakistan, because people are afraid that they themselves will be killed. Some of Ziauddin’s friends in Islamabad organize a conference about religious freedom, but almost no one turns up, either to speak or listen. Ziauddin continues to write articles criticizing the Taliban. His wife worries about what will happen if the Taliban come to hurt him, and she begins sleeping with a knife under her pillow.
Ziauddin has always counted on a close network of loyal friends, and now he’s sad to see that many of his allies have caved to the Taliban. They don’t wish to attend Ziauddin’s summit because they fear for their lives and the lives of their families. Even Tor Pekai, a peaceful, quiet woman, begins taking precautions against the Taliban—their influence is everywhere.
Because of the uncertain atmosphere in Pakistan, there are many conspiracy theories. Some believe that the government of Pakistan is secretly encouraging the Taliban. Ziauddin believes that the Taliban have “unseen support,” but he dismisses the idea that the government is working alongside them. To distract herself from her anxiety, Malala reads A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. She is only eleven years old, she notes, but already wants to go back to a simpler, earlier time.
We haven’t heard much about Malala personally in a while, and we don’t know how she’ll react to the chaotic violence she’s been describing. It’s inspiring and even a little refreshing to find that Malala, while frightened by the Taliban’s actions, turns to books for comfort. She continues to do exactly the thing the Taliban hate and fear the most: educate herself.