Pakistan produces people of extraordinary bravery. But no nation should ever require its citizens to be that brave. Pakistani novelist novelist Nadeem Aslam
What has Malala Yousafzai Done to the Taliban?
The attempted assassination of a 14-year-old girl was driven by pathological hatred of women – not politics, as the Taliban claim
by Kamila Shamsie October 10, 2012 The Guardian (UK)
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters
and the Taliban.” So began the diary of Malala Yousafzai, an
11-year-old girl living in Pakistan’s Swat region in 2009
while the Taliban had de facto control and female education
was banned. The BBC website published the diary, and a few
months later a New York Times documentary revealed more about
the girl behind the pen.
Today, as Malala Yousafzai remains critical but stable in
hospital following an assassination attempt by the Taliban, I
watched the laughing, wise, determined 11-year-old in that
video and thought of the Urdu phrase, “kis mitti kay banee ho”
– “from what clay were you fashioned?”
It’s an expression that changes meaning according to context.
Sometimes, as when applied to Malala Yousafzai, it’s a
compliment, alluding to a person’s exceptional qualities. At
other times it indicates some element of humanity that’s
missing. From what clay were you fashioned, I’d like to say to
the TTP (the Pakistan Taliban), in a tone quite different to
that in which I’d direct it to the 14-year-old girl they shot
“because of her pioneering role in preaching secularism and
so-called enlightened moderation” and who, according to their
spokesman, they intend to target again.
The truth is both Malala Yousafzai and the Taliban were
fashioned from the clay of Pakistan. When I say this about
Malala it is not in a statement of patriotism about my
homeland but instead an echo of a sentiment expressed by the
novelist Nadeem Aslam: “Pakistan produces people of
extraordinary bravery. But no nation should ever require its
citizens to be that brave.”
Because the state of Pakistan allowed the Taliban to exist,
and to grow in strength, Malala Yousafzai couldn’t simply be a
schoolgirl who displayed courage in facing down school bullies
but one who, instead, appeared on talk shows in Pakistan less
than a year ago to discuss the possibility of her own death at
the hands of the Taliban.
“Sometimes I imagine I’m going along and the Taliban stop me.
I take my sandal and hit them on the face and say what you’re
doing is wrong. Education is our right, don’t take it from us.
There is this quality in me – I’m ready for all situations. So
even if (God let this not happen) they kill me, I’ll first say
to them, what you’re doing is wrong.”
It’s only right to acknowledge that if different decisions had
been made about Pakistan’s history, primarily by those within
the country but also by those outside it, the men issuing
statements justifying assassination attempts on a young girl
would also have been doing something else with their lives.
It isn’t the clay from which they were fashioned, but the
patch of earth in which they grew up which made them what they
now are. But what do we do with this piece of information?
Yes, of course, the Taliban exists because of political
decisions dating back to the 1980s; and of course the mess
that is the “war on terror” has only added to the TTP’s ranks.
There’s no need for the Taliban to invent propaganda against
the American and Pakistan state (although they do) – both
governments supply an excess of recruitment material for those
who hate them. So if you view the Taliban simply through the
prism of the war on terror and Pakistan and the United States,
it’s possible to think the process can be reversed; policies
can be changed; everyone can stop being murderous and
But then there’s Malala Yousafzai, standing in for all the
women attacked, oppressed, condemned by the Taliban. What role
have women played in creating the Taliban? Which of their
failures is tied to the Taliban’s strength? What grave
responsibility, what terrible guilt do they carry around which
explains the reprisals against them?
For political differences, seek political solutions. But what
do you do in the face of an enemy with a pathological hatred
of woman? What is it that you’re saying if you say (and I do,
in this case) there can be no starting point for negotiations?
I believe in due process of law; I know violence begets
violence. But as I keep clicking my Twitter feed for updates
on Malala Yousafzai’s condition, and find instead one
statement after another from the government, political
parties, and the army (writing in capital letters) condemning
the attack, I find myself thinking, do any of you know the way
forward? Today, I’m unable to see it. But Malala, I’m sure,
would tell me I’m wrong. Let her wake up, and do that.
Kamila Shamsie is the author of five novels, including Burnt
Shadows which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for
Fiction, and has been translated into over 20 languages. She
has also written a work of non-fiction, Offence: The Muslim
Case. A trustee of Free Word and English Pen, she grew up in
Karachi and now lives in London.