The Khushal School began to attract more pupils, and so Malala’s family became more financially secure. Eventually they move into a more comfortable home. One night, Malala was throwing trash into the large “rubbish mountain” in her community. She noticed a young girl, about the same age as her, cowering behind the piles of trash. Malala was afraid to talk to the girl. When she explained what she’d seen to her father, he told her that the girl was undoubtedly looking for trash that she could sell to a shop—shopkeepers forced children to search for goods.
From an early age, Malala is conscious of being different from her neighbors, and yet all the more connected to them because of her differences. This is plainly the case in this scene, in which Malala develops a passion for fighting poverty and inequality in Pakistan, one that only grows stronger as she grows up.
Malala was moved by her father’s description of the child in the rubbish mountain, and she begged her father to offer the girl a free place at his school. Ziauddin agreed—over the years, he’d given away many free places because Malala and Tor Pekai asked him to do so. At this point, Ziauddin’s school had more than 800 students, and three locations. More than 100 students attended the school for free. One side effect of this was that the richer students left Ziauddin’s school, as their parents didn’t want them associating with the poor. Nevertheless, Ziauddin remained a powerful, respected man in his community, despite the fact that he had little money and few family connections.
In this section we get a reminder of the influence that Tor Pekai exerts on her husband. While she isn’t an educated woman, or even a particularly confident one, she’s capable of recognizing that Ziauddin should let poor children into his school, even if it means making less money. Ziauddin, to his credit, listens to Tor Pekai instead of dismissing her opinion, as many Pashtun men would do. Ziauddin is widely recognized as a generous, deeply moral man, and Tor Pekai’s advice is a large part of his reputation. It’s also indicative of Malala’s natural goodness that she responds to the sight of suffering with compassion.
Ziauddin then turned from running his school to preserving the environment in Swat. Because Mingora was growing quickly—at this point, it had over 100,000 citizens—trees were being depleted, and the water was growing dirty. He founded a group called the Global Peace Council, whose purpose—despite the ironic name—was to preserve Swat’s natural beauty. Ziauddin also continued to write poetry, much of it about women’s rights. Once, he read a poem about peace before a crowd in Kabul, Afghanistan, and his audience cheered and yelled for him to read the poem again.
Ziauddin seems like a person who delights in having projects—who is always looking for more to do, both because of his passion for helping others, and because of his energy and drive. Here he founds a group whose bombastic name (he’s not truly dealing with global issues at all) testifies to his high ambitions. Ziauddin recognizes that women’s rights are a cultural issue, meaning that he’ll have to use culture (here, poetry) to change the public’s mind.
Malala explains the political climate in Pakistan at the time. Following September 11, America needed Pakistan as an ally—thus, they tried to befriend General Musharraf. It was also at this time that the Taliban was becoming a visible presence in Pakistan. Many of the people in Malala’s community supported the Taliban. Indeed, Pakistan’s own intelligence service, the ISI, had essentially created the Taliban, as former ISI operatives had left to form this group. America wanted to prevent the Taliban from growing any more powerful, and thus tried to make alliances with Pakistan.
In this section we’re reminded that Malala is living in the post-9/11 era. This means that the United States is intimately involved in Pakistan’s affairs, and it also means that they’ve developed an uneasy alliance with General Musharraf. Like his predecessor, General Zia, Musharraf seems willing to manipulate public opinion and “play both sides,” acting as an ally to the U.S. when it suits him.
Malala notes that many of her neighbors thought of Osama bin Laden as a hero for engineering the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. Others claimed that the Jews masterminded the attack—a claim that Malala’s father angrily dismissed as racist nonsense. Throughout the country, Musharraf announced that he would be cooperating with the United States. This decision made Musharraf unpopular, and locally, many political leaders declared fatwas (official religious statements) condemning America. Musharraf “hedged his bets” by collecting huge amounts of foreign aid from America, and then using it to supply jihadists. Malala’s father hated Musharraf for promising to help the people of Pakistan, and then refusing to use any foreign aid to actually improve their lives.
Malala never denies the fact that many of the people in her community are racist, sexist, and homophobic—all things which many Americans would find deeply offensive. The prevalence of fatwas (usually condemning someone to death) in Pakistan during this time also shows a willingness to use and support violence in order to achieve one’s ends. At the same time, Malala has already established her love and affection for the people in her community, despite the fact that she doesn’t share many of their views. She wants to educate her neighbors and teach them to move past their petty bigotry.