Malala Yousafzai is beyond inspiring, and her book I Am Malala is terrific. When I look at the young girls in my life, I don’t see that kind of passion for large worldwide causes. That ability to see outside herself at such a young age is what I admire the most about Malala. When they say, “wise beyond her years,” that’s what Malala is to me.
Sometimes the reading experience I have with one book is colored by the books I read just before. In this case, I read On Tyranny right before I Am Malala and it was a perfect mix. The first has twenty lessons, which are ultimately behaviors to watch for from people in power. In Malala’s story, she tells of exactly these tyrannical behaviors from the Taliban and Pakistani citizens.
Here’s one matched set about how easily people change under tyranny.
Timothy Snyder says, “… people are remarkably receptive to new rules in a new setting. They are surprisingly willing to harm and kill others in the service of some new purpose if they are so instructed by a new authority.”
Malala says, “But fear is very powerful and in the end it was this fear that had made people turn against Shabana. Terror had made people cruel. The Taliban bulldozed both our Pashtun values and the values of Islam.”
And another match of lessons related to the institutions of democracy.
Snyder writes, “Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose an institution you care about—a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union—and take its side.”
Malala tells about the fall of the state police, “Fazlullah’s men humiliated them by taking their uniforms and guns and giving them each 500 rupees to make their way back. The Taliban then took two police stations in Khwazakhela and moved on to Madyan, where more police officers gave up their weapons. Hardly anyone resisted.”
While I admire Malala herself, I found the book’s writing simplistic despite the complicated political and historical events. Again, I think my view was colored by my recents reads such as The New Jim Crow, which was so detailed and professorial. I didn’t love the chapters about history and decades of politics in Pakistan, but they were an important set up to why a Talib would shoot Malala and her classmates.
Apart from the heavy politics, we learn that Malala is a typical girl who loves sleeping in, wearing pink, and gossiping with friends.
Malala and her father have a beautiful relationship, one that’s unique in Muslim households. It’s clear that his openness, devotion, and love for his only daughter has molded Malala into the young woman she is today. In addition, I think her parents relationship with each other, no matter how traditional, taught Malala and her brothers much about mutual respect.
Since I truly enjoy memoirs of medical stories, that’s the part of this book I enjoyed the most. The physical and emotional resilience of youth gives me hope!