Malala Yousafzai has just three words for you: BOOKS NOT BULLETS
“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
I write with many things in mind today.
This is part movie review, part
and part outcry against gun violence.
Note: possible “He Named Me Malala” spoilers ahead.
I want to answer the question, just in case it isn’t already known: Who is Malala?
The word “Malala” means grief stricken or sadness and she was named after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous warrior woman from Pakistan, who fought and died.
Malala’s story went differently. Bullets did not stop her, on that bus, back in 2012 and hatred did not silence her.
This film shines a light on Malala’s everyday family life, in and amongst the news clips from the shooting.
Just like any other teenage girl, when an interviewer asks her about crushes and boys, she replies with shyness and giggling.
She appears on television, doing many interviews. On The Daily Show, she states the idea that girls are more powerful than boys. John Stewart replies, feigning shock at just such a thought.
The scenes with her arm wrestling and bickering with her younger brothers showed the sweetness and the love of a family who only want to live in peace.
Her mother does not speak, for the most part, throughout. She loves her family, her daughter, but she has found settling into the new life they have in Birmingham, England and far from their home, which is now too dangerous, a struggle to adjust.
Their Islamic culture has taught her things about modesty, as she still points out to her daughter, when they are out. Her mother notices any man that appears to be looking at her. She was raised in a place and time when it was the norm to cover the woman’s face in public, but Malala tells her mother that “he may be looking at me, but I am looking at him too.”
It isn’t easy to blend these two countries and cultures for Malala’s mother, who is unable to speak the language and, despite all that’s happened, misses her home.
She says, in the film, that she looks up at the moon and reflects on how everything is different, in their new home, except the moon. She knows this is where her daughter is safe from those, in the Taliban, who would still want her silenced, and so she adapts.
Only those filled with hate could be threatened by an innocent child. Nobody who understood what love means and the power it has could or would act with such cowardice.
Malala tries to educate, about what is said in the Quran:
“Allah says, if you kill one person, it is as if you kill whole humanity.
The profit of Muhammad is the profit of mercy. Do not harm yourself or others. And do you not know the first word of the Quran means “read”?”
I can hear her bnervousness, during her acceptance speech, by the sound her mouth makes as she speaks. It’s as if her mouth is extremely dry, but she makes a hugely important statement with her words..
“When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.”
–Ursula K. Le Guin
Malala is the candle. The shadow barged onto her school bus and shot her and her friends.
These monsters, under the guise of the religion of Islam, made their way onto that bus and asked, “Who is Malala?”
Now, her story and her documentary shines a light on that shadow and on the candle that brings the world’s attention to what must be done to keep candles like hers burning.
Malala went to her father’s school, studied and played with her friends, and then things began to change.
The Taliban came to her village and began to worm their way into people’s heads, to seize control and to indoctrinate. They would, soon enough, turn to the only thing they know: violence.
Women were rounded up, flogged in the town square, and people were killed. Schools were destroyed.
“Education for girls went from being a right to being a crime.”
Girls were forbidden to go to school, to speak up, to have a future. Most people were, understandably, too scared and remained silent. Not Malala and her father.
Malala was still young, but not so young that she couldn’t be afraid, for her father more than herself. She speaks, in the film, about checking and double-checking all the doors and windows in their house before going to bed because she was afraid they would come for her father in the night.
This is love and it can drive out hate. No young girl should have to live with this fear, I realized as I thought how I would feel if my own father were under threat like that.
Her father taught her and believed that if you have to live under the control of someone else, enslaved, that becomes a life not worth living. Some might find it controversial, for a child to do what she would do, but try living under such a regime and then judge.
Malala did speak up about her right to education being taken away, the rights of her female friends, and she did it in a blog for the BBC. At first she was anonymous, but eventually, as she did more speaking and interviews, her identity was revealed. This made her a threat.
She is sometimes asked:
“Why should girls go to school? Why is it important for them? But I think, the more important question is…why shouldn’t they?”
Brave brave girl.
Malala has only ever wanted children to receive education, women to have equal rights, and for their to be peace for every corner of the world.
These aren’t too much to ask, are they?
She wants all frightened children to have peace, for the voiceless to have change.
“It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action.”
She says it is not enough to take steps, but that a leap is needed instead.
Her story of hearing from a girl she once went to school with, after losing touch with her, only to discover this girl has two children sticks out in my mind most sharply.
Malala is asked what her life would be like if she were just an ordinary girl and her response is that she is still an ordinary girl:
“But if I had an ordinary father and an ordinary mother, then I would have two children now.”
Nothing ordinary about this young woman. Number one thing that makes a difference in any child’s life is getting the love they deserve, that all children deserve, but that so many don’t receive.
“It is not time to tell world leaders to realize the importance of education. They already know it. Their own children are in good schools. It is time to call them to take action for the rest of the world’s children, to unite and make education their top priority. Basic literacy is no longer sufficient.”
Watching her documentary and her Nobel Peace Prize speech make me cry, but they empower me too.
When she talks about that moment when you must choose whether or not to stand up or remain silent, I get chills and I want to cry. I know about feeling voiceless and powerless. I am sure we can all relate in some way, to these words, whether it’s due to prejudice against women, inside the oppressive walls of old fashioned cultural beliefs, or against people with disabilities.
You don’t know how lucky you are to have an education, until it’s being taken from you.
She demands to know why governments find it so easy to make weapons, tanks, and wars but building schools, bringing education, and spreading peace instead of violence is so hard.
This is the same question I’ve had for a long time, when I see my own country of Canada (who have made Malala an honorary Canadian citizen) saying goodbye to one prime minister and welcoming in the next, when a new president will be decided upon for the US next year.
Why do we value weapons like guns and tanks and bombs, over words and books and education?
Malala asks why is it so easy for countries to give guns and so hard to give books and build schools?
Speaking about her attackers:
“Neither their ideas nor their bullets could win.”
Guns, in the wrong hands, the hands of a violent group of terrorists like the Taliban put Malala in a coma, have damaged her smile, her face, her hearing on one side of her head, but they really ended up doing the opposite of what they were hoping to do. Instead of silencing her, living or dead, she survived and is louder than ever.
“They shot me on the left side of my head. They thought the bullet would silence us. I am the same Malala.”
And does Malala hold any grudges or feel any hatred? Has she forgiven them?
No and yes are her answers to those questions. No hate. She has decided to focus on love, compassion, and peace.
“I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”
Some men, spoken to on camera for the documentary, go so far as to claim that Malala’s story is simply a publicity stunt and that her father is behind it all, that he wrote every word supposedly attributed to his daughter.
I couldn’t believe this when I heard it. What arrogance. The fact that a girl is thought to be unable to say anything of any value is the saddest thing of all, but it is so often the reality.
Malala’s father is proud to be known as such.
“Thank you to my father, for not clipping my wings, and for letting me fly.”
This film is about love. It’s about the love one father has for his family, for his daughter.
It’s easy, for some in the west, to think of all men in the Muslim culture as being oppressive towards women. Ziauddin is a father, just like my own, just like any other. He and his daughter are squashing stereotypes and showing the world that most families, no matter where they come from, only want peace, safety, and an education for their loved ones and for themselves.
This father has taught, not only his daughter to stand up for her rights, but he’s shown his two young sons the value girls and women deserve. He’s imparting, into these two impressionable boys, the respect that is going to make a kinder, gentler generation of men everywhere.
“My father only gave me the name Malala. He didn’t make me Malala.”
So then just who is Malala Yousafzai?
“I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls: 66 million girls who are deprived of education.”
I chose Malala’s story for October’s #1000Speak because I saw nothing but compassion and love.
“I had two choices: remain silent and wait to be killed or speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.”
I can speak up, without the fear of being killed and hopefully now so can Malala.
Love triumphs over hate.