screenshot143 Malala Yousafzai is a true heroine. She had the fortune, however, of being born into a family that already respected girl children more than was common for the culture. I Am Malala recounts the Taliban rise to power in Malala’s community,  her fight for girls’ education, the Taliban’s attempt to assassinate her, and its aftermath.

When I started reading I Am Malala I began telling friends, almost immediately, that everyone should read this book. We know the news cycle details- that the Taliban boarded Malala’s school bus and shot her in the head. What the book gives us beyond that is insight into the Pashtun culture and details about how the Taliban came to power in Pakistan.

To me, those details are the power of the book.  It’s easy for us to judge people who let the Taliban come to power so easily. But we forget that when a devastating earthquake hit Pakistan in 2007, it was groups supported and funded by the Taliban who were first able to get aid to desperate citizens. That sets a good foundation on which to spread propaganda.   And it is easy to point out the group mentality and absurdity of burning secular CD’s, DVD’s and Books, except…. conservative religious groups do the same in this country. So perhaps we aren’t as far removed from fanaticism as we might like to pretend that we are.  Then we see the further isolation and dehumanization of women in the culture. Twisting the Q’uran to justify their treatment of women- the rigid social behavior expectations, the denial of education- the Taliban used that and brute force to take over the government, intertwining religion and government.  That’s another danger in this country- again, not so dissimilar in some areas as we might like to pretend.

That Malala’s father believed so strongly in education for everyone certainly gave her a different world view than she might have had otherwise.  And her father, while protective, at the same time encouraged his daughter to speak out and stand up for her beliefs.  The death threats against her father were not unexpected. That the Taliban would target his daughter? Unthinkable.  The book doesn’t delve into it, but I wonder how all of that impacted Malala’s father. Does he question his decision to let her protest so vocally? And, of course, being shot aside, would he want it to be any other way?

The other part of the book that I found very interesting is the aftermath of the shooting- what it took to get Malala out; how long it took her to be reunited with her family. The lasting ramifications of the shooting on Malala’s religious beliefs and on the life of the family.

The book is written in a straightforward, matter of fact manner. Malala does not set herself up as a superhero, nor does she wallow in self pity for her experiences.  She mourns the homeland of her youth.  She calls out the Taliban for their manipulation of the teachings of the Q’uran.  She maintains her own set of beliefs.  And, as I mentioned earlier, if we pay attention to what she says, we recognize how deluded we might be about  religious fanaticism in our own country.  This book should truly be required reading for everyone.