Malala Yousafzai and her family belong to a proud Pashtun community in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Though the birth of female children isn’t often celebrated in Malala’s culture, Malala's father, Ziauddin, is a staunch defender of women's rights and was delighted. Malala tells us that he named her after an Afghan heroine, Malalai of Maiwand, who was crucial to the Afghan victory against the British in the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Ziauddin is also the owner and principal of the school Malala attends. The Khushal School is rare in its focus on science, women's rights, and literature, all subjects forbidden by the Taliban. After a devastating earthquake in the Swat Valley, mullahs from the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Sharia-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), or Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, warned that the Swat Valley was under God's judgment. The mullahs called for the implementation of Sharia Law, claiming that "women's freedom and obscenity" had insulted Allah.
Malala was ten when the Taliban took over the Swat Valley. Members of the TNSM ingratiated themselves with Malala's Pashtun community by portraying themselves as saviors dedicated to rooting out government corruption. The TNSM openly advocated Sharia law and eventually outlawed dancing, music, CDs, TVs, and movies. Members of the TNSM began intimidating unaccompanied women or girls in public places. They also made death threats against Ziauddin for educating girls. Eventually, the TNSM united with other Taliban groups and declared war on the Pakistani government. The group set up public flogging sessions and assassinated government officials. The Taliban destroyed school buildings and demanded that girls stop attending classes. Meanwhile, Malala was asked to write about life under the Taliban for the BBC and star in a New York Times documentary about Islamic extremism. Under continued threat from the Taliban, Ziauddin realized how dire the situation had become and proceeded to move his family out of the Swat Valley.
When Malala and her family returned home three months later, the prime minister assured everyone that the Taliban had been cleared out of the Swat Valley. However, Malala notes that kidnappings and murders continued to occur. Both Muslims and Christians were targeted by Taliban members. Malala recalls that a Christian woman named Asia Bibi was sentenced to death under the Blasphemy Law. Meanwhile, Malala's father spoke out against Taliban atrocities and became a target himself. In the midst of this, news came that US Navy SEALs had killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda and the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks. Like many of her fellow Pakistanis, Malala was elated until she learned that bin Laden had been hiding in plain sight in Abbottabad. It was humiliating that the Americans had detected his location without the Pakistani Army's knowledge. Despite the national upheaval, the Pakistani government awarded Malala the country's first National Peace Prize. Her prominence soon made her a target, and she was shot by a Taliban gunman.
Malala relates that, in the aftermath of the shooting, she was flown to the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar. There, Colonel Junaid, the Pakistani Army's most decorated surgeon, took charge of her care. Malala theorizes that the colonel likely saved her life when he chose to...
(The entire section is 812 words.)