Pakistani schoolgirl shot by Taliban says fear of terrorism will not stop her helping her country
The Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban has described her experience of settling in to her new life in Birmingham.
Malala Yousafzai, now 16, angered the Taliban with her pleas for girls to be educated. She was shot by a gunman who boarded her school bus in the Swat valley in north-west Pakistan a year ago. The bullet went into her left eye socket but missed her brain.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Monday about her new life in Britain, Malala said: “I was feeling a little bit embarrassed and worried … the school was quite different compared to school in Pakistan.”
She said she was particularly surprised at the level of freedom afforded to women.
“It was difficult to adjust to this new culture and this new society, especially for my mother, because we have never seen that women would be that much free, that they would go to any market, they will be going alone with no men and with no brothers and fathers, because, in our country, if you want to go outside, you must go with a man – if even your five-year-old brother goes with you it’s fine, but you must have someone else, a girl cannot go outside all alone.”
Malala said she still very much saw herself as a Pashtun girl, despite her new life.
Asked if she was becoming western, she replied: “No, I’m not becoming western. I’m still following my own culture – Pashtun culture.”
She pointed out that her dress sense has not changed and that she still covered her head with a shawl.
Although she has been warned against returning to Pakistan for her own personal safety, Malala said she could not allow the thought or fear of a future terrorist threat to frighten her away from her mission to help Pakistan.
On the letter sent to her by a senior Taliban commander wishing her well but explaining why she was targeted, she said she “felt nothing”.
However, she expressed relief at the Taliban finally admitting responsibility for shooting her, ending speculation among her doubters that she had been targeted.
She said: “It’s nice to hear from them because they accepted: ‘Yes, we have shot Malala.'”
On the apparent ideological divide between the west and east, Malala said: “I don’t know why people have divided the whole world into two groups: west and east.
“I don’t know what’s the difference between west and east. The only thing they [the terrorists] see in the west is women wearing short dresses and skirts; that does not mean they have different ideology.”
Malala told the BBC Panorama programme Malala: Shot for Going to School, to be shown on BBC1 on Monday night: “I want to tell the students of UK to think that it is very precious, it’s very prestigious, to go to school.
“Reading a book, having a pen in our hands, studying, sitting in a classroom is something very special for us because once we were deprived from it and because what we have seen in Swat.”
She was born into a society that did not value girls, she said. “When I was born, some of our relatives came to our house and told my mother, don’t worry, next time you will have a son,” she told Panorama.
“For my brothers it was easy to think about the future, they can be anything they want. But for me it was hard and for that reason, I wanted to become educated and I wanted to empower myself with knowledge.”
In January 2008 the Taliban, who controlled the region, declared that girls would no longer be allowed to go to school. Acid attacks, abuse and even killing were used as punishment and Malala admits: “I was afraid of my future.”
With her father Ziauddin’s backing, Malala kept an online diary and did interviews with journalists to encourage girls to seek education – but it also made her a target.
She does not remember being shot on 9 October 2012, but her horrified friends recall that the Taliban asked for Malala by name before shooting straight at her head. Everything, from schoolbooks to clothes, was soaked in blood and Malala was left near death.
She travelled to Britain for treatment but her injuries were so bad that her father asked relatives to start arranging her funeral.
Despite being an anti-Taliban activist, he never believed they would target a child. “They flogged adult girls but they never killed children. We really didn’t expect because we thought that they might have some values, terrorists might have some code of conduct,” he told Panorama.
Malala slowly pulled through after being transferred to an army cardiology hospital with better intensive care.
Malala now lives in Birmingham with her family and started at Edgbaston high school for girls in March 2013. She is determined to keep in touch with her Pashtun culture, believing that it teaches patience, peace and religious tolerance.
Her courage has made her a much-admired global figure, and she was asked to make a speech to the UN on her 16th birthday.
She has been invited to a reception for youth, education and the Commonwealth, being hosted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, at Buckingham Palace on 18 October.
It has also made her a hot tip for the Nobel peace prize.
Malala told Panorama: “If I win Nobel peace prize, it would be a great opportunity for me, but if I don’t get it, it’s not important because my goal is not to get Nobel peace prize, my goal is to get peace and my goal is to see education of every child.”
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