Thursday, November 15, 2012

Malala's Father: Hero or Reckless Idealist?

I just watched a documentary about Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani  activist, filmed before she was shot by the Taliban.  I was struck by her eloquence and poise, and remarkable diplomacy and maturity. As with her father, who professes that he "fell in love" with her as soon as he saw her, you can't help but realize that Malala is a very special person.  There was more detail in the piece than I was aware of from news reports and print media, and while I was impressed with the girl, my opinion of the father was more unclear.  Her father is educated, idealistic, impassioned, and brave.  Just like his daughter, he is charming.  But I was left uneasy during the film, knowing all too well what lay ahead for his child. 

Ziauddin Yousafzai ran a girls' school in the Swat Valley.  The Taliban broadcast a threat that, after a certain date, no girls could attend school, so Mr. Yousafzai was forced to close it.  Some hundreds of other girls' schools had been destroyed by the Taliban.  Her father spoke against the Taliban, but, despite criticizing others for leaving the Swat Valley in its hour of need, he did eventually and wisely move his family and himself temporarily out of harm's way.  But, upon their return to home, with a very shaky peace, continued shelling, and Taliban rumored to be in hiding amongst the people, Mr. Yousafzai was an outspoken critic of the terrorist organization.  His name was even broadcast as an enemy to be slaughtered. 

His grin is certain, hers more
circumspect (like Mona Lisa)
Was Mr. Yousafzai brave, or fool-hardy?  He raised his daughter well, that is clear, and he passed on his idealism.  But he knowingly put her in danger.  He was approached by the BBC for the name of a student to write for a blog, and he gave them her name.  Of course, we should teach our children to fight for their rights and speak out against tyranny.  But should they defy militant organizations that threaten and kill men, women and children to enforce their warped interpretation of religion?  I'm not sure that is the role that 14 year-old girls should be thrust into.  I am glad she is highlighting the plight of girls, and, indeed, the plight of everyone living under Taliban rule.  But, if Mr. Yousafzai wanted to protest Sharia law, should he have gotten his beloved daughter involved?

Malala's dream was to become a doctor; Mr. Yousafzai's wanted his daughter to become a politician.  Although I am sympathetic to Mr. Yousafzai and agree with his positions, I can't help but wonder, did Malala choose this near-martyrdom, or is she just trying to please her doting father?  What would I do if it was my daughter's education being threatened?  Would I put my pride and joy in danger?  It is such a hard call.  I can only pray I never need to make such choices.


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