Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 831
Malala relates that she was ten when the Taliban took over the Swat Valley. She remembers that many of the Taliban members wore black turbans and sported black badges with the words "Shariat Ya Shahadat" (Sharia Law or Martyrdom) on them. The leader of the group was Maulana Fazlullah. One of the first things he did was set up an illegal radio station called Mullah FM. Fazlullah became known as the Radio Mullah. Many people became enamored with Fazlullah because he was a charismatic speaker and because he advocated a return to Islamic law, which he portrayed as a superior alternative to secular Pakistani law. Initially, Fazlullah's sermons were sensible calls to clean living; as time progressed, however, he declared that TVs, DVDs, and Western music were haram. He also began preaching against giving women too much freedom. To increase interest in his radio program, Fazlullah openly praised individuals whom he considered model Muslims and criticized others who were less exemplary. The Taliban eventually set up shuras (local courts), instituted public whippings, and carried out assassinations against public officials. They also claimed that polio vaccines were an American attempt to render Muslim women infertile. The Taliban's reign of terror led Ziauddin to express his concerns to the local newspaper.
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Malala concludes that the Taliban despises fine arts and culture almost as much as it loathes science. Upon their incursion into the Swat Valley, Taliban members lost no time in blowing up Buddhist statues of the Kushan dynasty and dynamiting the Jehanabad Buddha, which had been in existence since the seventh century. They also burned TVs and computers. Cable channels were eventually taken off the air, and children's board games were outlawed. The Taliban also began a reign of terror in Islamabad. This was led by the Burqa Brigade, a group of female Taliban sympathizers who took it upon themselves to ransack DVD stores, raid private homes, and kidnap women they classified as prostitutes. The Burqa Brigade answered to two brothers, Abdul Rashid and Abdul Aziz, who ran two madrasas for the Lal Masjid or Red Mosque of Islamabad. General Musharraf eventually sent in commandos to put down the rebellion in the capital. In the aftermath, the Taliban used Abdul Rashid's death to rationalize its war against the Pakistani government. The general's army then had to send in at least thirteen thousand troops to battle the Taliban in the Swat Valley; victory was achieved, but Ziauddin warned the reprieve would not last. In the meantime, Benazir Bhutto's return sparked hopes for meaningful change. Sadly, however, she was assassinated on December 27, 2007, by a suicide bomber and a suspected sniper.
In Chapter 9, Malala tells us that the Taliban "arrived in the night just like vampires." The simile is apt, as the Taliban is a stealthy, malevolent, and cunning force. In fiction, vampires are also immortal and ferocious, with regenerative and hypnotic powers. As Hidayatullah proclaims, the Taliban first concentrates on winning over a populace before enslaving them. The process is so organic that victims do not suspect their danger until it is too late. Essentially, the Taliban uses emotional and psychological manipulation to "hypnotize" people into a state of dangerous apathy. The group regenerates itself by continually fostering a "cloned" culture of spiritual elitists, adherents who believe that their brand of Islam is the only one approved by Allah. By praising (rewarding) those who live by the Taliban code of conduct and condemning (punishing) those who don't, Taliban leaders like Fazlullah ensure that the group will always have its loyal supporters. The group leverages allegiances to create a culture of privileged exclusivity; supporters are assured that their loyalty will be richly rewarded by Allah. By earning the public's trust in this way, Fazlullah's group was able to execute khans and secular politicians with impunity.
In Chapter 10, it is noteworthy that Benazir Bhutto is contrasted with General Musharraf. Bhutto's unswerving commitment to democracy and her resolve against extremism made her a Pakistani role model. In contrast, General Musharraf's focus was more Machiavellian; he preferred leveraging American largesse and his ambiguous relationship with the Taliban to secure his own gains. Musharraf originally saw militants like the Taliban as freedom fighters. He appreciated its role in routing the Russians in the Soviet-Afghan War and even admitted that Pakistan trained Salafist-jihadis at government expense for the war effort. However, because the Pakistani army and ISI (intelligence services) had close ties to the Taliban, Musharraf's alliance with Western powers was always tenuous at best. After the Soviet-Afghan War, the Taliban shifted its efforts toward remaking Pakistan into a caliphate: this put the group at odds with Musharraf. The old allegiances were turned on its head, and the general was left at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, Bhutto represented ethical change and progressive secularism to her weary countrymen. Malala's admiration for Benazir Bhutto is noteworthy: the former prime minister set an example of steadfast courage in the face of persecution, inspiring Malala's own courageous stand against extremism and ignorance.