Sunday, 3 November 2013

I am Malala: a book that Malala Yousufzai is accused of authoring

Malala Yousufzai and Taliban - two faces of Pakistan
Not many personalities have divided Pakistan the way Malala Yousufzai has managed to do in her young life. Not many books have sparked such a vitriolic criticism in Pakistan as the book "I am Malala: girl who was shot by Taliban" by Christina Lamb. I was encouraged to read and comment on the book after I witnessed a heated debate on a Pakistani television channel featuring left wing commentator Dr Pervaiz Hoodbhoy, and right wing hawkish journalists Ansar Abbasi and Oyra Maqbool Jan. They were all primarily at loggerheads picking out content of the book that is insensitive or disrespectful to Pakistan, Islam or local cultural views of Pakistan.

Having read the book myself here is what I think:

  • The book is wrongly attributed to be by or about Malala. It is mostly about a man Ziauddin Yousufzai - Malala's father. Entire book is full of his life, views and aspirations narrated as if by a loving daughter in awe of her father. You get to know more about Ziauddin in this book than the girl who almost paid the ultimate price. Its only in the last couple of chapters before and after the shooting that you get to hear about Malala and what was going on in her young intelligent head. The book would have been a more interesting read if it had been true to the itself and focussed on a shrewd entrepreneurial and ANP activist young man from humble origins who cleverly utilised the opportunity offered by the BBC to further his commercial venture by using his intelligent and presentable daughter. An intelligent man who also callously ignored the risk to the life of his own young child and would like to believe that everyone else but himself is responsible for what happened.
  • In my personal opinion the book is also wrongly attributed to have been authored by Malala. Anyone who has read Christina Lamb's earlier works, and anyone who has kept an eye on international media commentary on the political and security situation in Pakistan and is aware of western and particularly Indian narrative will find the same Indian/Western narrative about Pakistani security institutions, politicians and the state carefully inserted across the book and attributed as words by Malala.
  • The book also does great injustice to the great Swat valley which has always been way ahead of rest of the North West Pakistan in terms of literacy, women's education, and overall liberal outlook towards the world. Portraying Swat as the lawless land based on a particular five year period of religious right wing insurgency is a great disservice to the common people of Swat. 
There has been a lot of discussion in Pakistan media about whether the book is disrespectful to Islam, Pakistan and its political leadership. I am reproducing exact quotes from the book that have caused hurt in many quarters - these quotes also match what is well known Western and Indian narrative on present day Pakistan. I don't find most of it surprising because having read the book I believe these are primarily views of Ziauddin Yousufzai rather than a doting daughter.

On heritage and Pakistani identity
"So I was born a proud daughter of Pakistan, though like all Swatis I thought of myself first as Swati and then Pashtun, before Pakistani
With such a history, you can see why the people of Swat did not always think it was a good idea to be part of Pakistan.
Our founder Jinnah wanted the rights of Muslims in India to be recognised, but the majority of people in India were Hindu. It was as if there was a feud between two brothers and they agreed to live in different houses. 
Would it have been better if we had not become independent but stayed part of India? I asked my father. It seemed to me that before Pakistan there was endless fighting between Hindus and Muslims. Then even when we got our own country there was still fighting, but this time it was between Mohajirs and Pashtuns and between Sunnis and Shias. Instead of celebrating each other, our four provinces struggle to get along. Sindhis often talk of separation and in Baluchistan there is an ongoing war which gets talked about very little because it is so remote. Did all this fighting mean we needed to divide our country yet again."
On General Zia-ul-Haq
"When my father was eight a general called Zia ul-Haq seized power. There are still many pictures of him around. He was a scary man with dark panda shadows around his eyes, large teeth that seemed to stand to attention and hair pomaded flat on his head.
Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto had appointed Zia as his army chief because he thought he was not very intelligent and would not be a threat. He called him his monkey.
As a nation we have always been good at hockey, but Zia made our female hockey players wear baggy trousers instead of shorts, and stopped women playing some sports altogether."
 On re-writing Pakistan's history
"Our history textbooks were rewritten to describe Pakistan as a ‘fortress of Islam’, which made it seem as if we had existed far longer than since 1947, and denounced Hindus and Jews. Anyone reading them might think we won the three wars we have fought and lost against our great enemy India."
On Jihad and role of CIA and ISI - reiterating the Indian and western narrative
"Jihad was very much encouraged by the CIA. Children in the refugee camps were even given school textbooks produced by an American university which taught basic arithmetic through fighting. They had examples like, ‘If out of 10 Russian infidels, 5 are killed by one Muslim, 5 would be left’ or ‘15 bullets – 10 bullets = 5 bullets.
Not only did our army and ISI have long links with some of the militants, but it also meant our troops would be fighting their own Pashtun brothers 
Sometimes when I walked along the main road I saw chalked messages on the sides of buildings. CONTACT US FOR JIHAD TRAINING, they would say, listing a phone number to call. In those days jihadi groups were free to do whatever they wanted. You could see them openly collecting contributions and recruiting men. There was even a headmaster from Shangla who would boast that his greatest success was to send ten boys in Grade 9 for jihad training in Kashmir. 
Most of the volunteers came from Islamic charities or organisations but some of these were fronts for militant groups. The most visible of all was Jamaat-ul-Dawa (JuD), the welfare wing of Lashkare-Taiba. LeT had close links to the ISI and was set up to liberate Kashmir, which we believe should be part of Pakistan not India as its population is mostly Muslim. The leader of LeT is a fiery professor from Lahore called Hafiz Saeed, who is often on television calling on people to attack India. 
My father heard that many of the boys were taken in by the JuD and housed in their madrasas
Hundreds of men had gone missing during the military campaign, presumably picked up by the army or ISI, but no one would say. The women could not get information; they didn't know if their husbands and sons were dead or alive.
This wasn't just happening in Swat. We heard there were thousands of missing all over Pakistan. Many people protested outside courthouses or put up posters of their missing but got nowhere 
LeT – Lashkar-e-Taiba, literally Army of the Pure, one of Pakistan's oldest and most powerful militant groups, active in Kashmir and with close links to the ISI "
On Pakistan's nuclear programme
"In Washington the government of President Obama had just announced it was sending 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan to turn round the war against the Taliban. But now they seemed to be more alarmed about Pakistan than Afghanistan. Not because of girls like me and my school but because our country has more than 200 nuclear warheads and they were worried about who was going to control them." 
On Lal Masjid
"The women were from Jamia Hafsa, the biggest female madrasa in our country and part of Lal Masjid – the Red Mosque in Islamabad. It was built in 1965 and got its name from its red walls. It’s just a few blocks from parliament and the headquarters of ISI, and many government officials and military used to pray there. The mosque has two madrasas, one for girls and one for boys, which had been used for years to recruit and train volunteers to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
When President Musharraf agreed to help America in the ‘War on Terror’, the mosque broke off its long links with the military and became a centre of protest against the government. Abdul Rashid was even accused of being part of a plot to blow up Musharraf ’s convoy in Rawalpindi in December 2003. Investigators said the explosives used had been stored in Lal Masjid. But a few months later he was cleared 
The Musharraf government didn’t seem to know what to do. This was perhaps because the military had been so attached to the mosque." 
On Salman Rushdie and freedom of expression
"The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and it was a parody of the Prophet’s life set in Bombay. Muslims widely considered it blasphemous and it provoked so much outrage that it seemed people were talking of little else. The odd thing was no one had even noticed the publication of the book to start with – it wasn’t actually on sale in Pakistan – but then a series of articles appeared in Urdu newspapers by a mullah close to our intelligence service, berating the book as offensive to the Prophet and saying it was the duty of good Muslims to protest. Soon mullahs all over Pakistan were denouncing the book, calling for it to be banned, and angry demonstrations were held.
My father also saw the book as offensive to Islam but believes strongly in freedom of speech. ‘First, let’s read the book and then why not respond with our own book,’ he suggested. He ended by asking in a thundering voice my grandfather would have been proud of, ‘Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not my Islam!"
Anti-Pakistan rhetoric
"14 August 1997 there were parades and commemorations throughout the country. However, my father and his friends said there was nothing to celebrate as Swat had only suffered since it had merged with Pakistan. They wore black armbands to protest, saying the celebrations were for nothing, and were arrested. They had to pay a fine they could not afford.
Father said if our politicians hadn’t spent so much money on building an atomic bomb we might have had enough for schools." 
Factual errors to demonstrates Zia--ud-Din's poverty
"For the first few years after graduating from Jehanzeb my father worked as an English teacher in a well-known private college. But the salary was low, just 1,600 rupees a month (around £12), and my grandfather complained he was not contributing to the household". [Rs 1600 at that time was a decent salary for a young graduate to start their career - using present day conversion rates is wrong]
Demeaning overseas workers
"There were many families with no men. They would visit only once a year, and usually a new baby would arrive nine months later"
On Taliban
"Taliban led by a one-eyed mullah had taken over the country and was burning girls’ schools. They were forcing men to grow beards as long as a lantern and women to wear burqas."
On Burqa
"Wearing a burqa is like walking inside big fabric shuttlecock with only a grille to see through and on hot days it’s like an oven.
Her inspiration
I am inspired by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the man who some call the Frontier Gandhi, who introduced a non-violent philosophy to our culture"
On receiving financial aid from the army
"Madam Maryam and I wrote an email to General Abbas explaining the situation. He was very kind and sent us 1,100,000 rupees so my father could pay everyone three months back pay."

I am on record for being an avid supporter of Malala, her campaign for education, her nomination for Nobel Peace Prize etc. I am, however, disappointed at the book and its content. It feels like repeat of when Ziauddin Yousufzai wrote his first speech and used Malala to present it at a competition, a larger group of people like Ziauddin got together to put this book together manipulating an impressionable young soul.

I am even more disappointed at the Pakistan Foreign Office, who at one stage under instructions from then president Mr Asif Zardari summarily turned Ziauddin Yousufzai into a formal diplomat representing Pakistan, are letting the charade to continue. This is a great disservice to an exceptional professional diplomatic core serving the country across the world. Mr Zardari is out of the door, so should be Mr Ziauddin and his team of handlers.


  1. A fairly good analysis of the book. However, as conclusion, just 'disappointment' is not enough. What would you suggest to Malala's supporters ? Should they continue their support for some Zia-ud-din Yosufzai cum ANP's ideology or a rethink is required at this stage !!!

  2. Let me be as categoric as I can:
    1. I continue to support Malala - her name stands for a cause that I believe in
    2. The book itself is a money making sham targeted at western audiences - thus the narrative is also western focussed and a great disservice to the Swat valley and its people.
    3. Ziauddin Yousufzai should be looked as a parent who knowingly continued to put his daughter's life in danger to fulfil his own commercial agenda that had little to do with education. He reminds me of another couple of parents who were criminally negligent and left their toddler daughter alone in an apartment in a foreign land - and have since been campaigning for her return.

  3. So, categorically, can we assume Malala as a puppet being handled by her father and some other handlers ! And, if Yosufzai should be looked as a parent who has his own commercial agenda then who is Malala, where does she stand and what is her cause for which support shall be continued ? One can find a lot of genuine education symbols in Pakistan who are not fake and deserves a lot more support.

  4. I support this girl fully but will not be buying thsi book now. , so glad I didn't pick it up.

  5. So unfortunate! It seems there's a lot of substance in anti 'Malala' campaign. Rizwan

  6. The word "accused" says it all.

  7. very unfortunate she is for being child of a selfish father, speechless in grief.