By Jehan Naseem
“Live #Malala Live. Can someone pls tell me how I explain to my 11yr old daughter why anyone would try to kill 14yr old”? That was one of the first tweets that caught my eye on October 9th, 2012 by Dr. Adil Najam the Vice Chancellor of LUMS. That was exactly the anxiety and dread I was suffering from. Since my nieces, ages ranging from 9 to 12 years old, have a habit of picking up the newspaper, attempting to read it and ask random questions. Unfortunately, if there is a picture of a 14 year girl with a severe gunshot wound on the front page, it is bound to catch another child’s attention and invoke curiosity.
The very next day, my 10 year-old niece did just that. The first question was “Who is Malala?” followed by a tirade of questions (which I let her ask in one go so I could attempt to give her a complete answer); “What happened to her? Has she been shot? Why has she been shot? The Taliban did this? Why did they do this? What did she do to them?”
After inhaling and exhaling a deep breath, my response to the 10 year olds questions was, “Malala is a 14 year old girl from Swat (up north of Pakistan). When the Taliban starting occupying or taking over the northern areas of Pakistan, Swat was one of them, they started closing down schools. They thought that this would lead children and people away from how they see Islam and make people to lead lives in a non-Islamic way which is forbidden. Hence, thought by using force they will get people to see their way. They even closed down Malala’s all girls’ school and that made her very upset. Since she wanted to continue her education and make something of her future. Education was something she really valued and was very important to her. She questioned them; they tried to make her quiet down and did not answer her with giving her a good reason. She spoke out for herself and all the children in Swat, still demanding a really good reason. She fought, she’s only 14 and she had more courage then all the adults combined in Pakistan. They did this to her, because they thought they could stop her like this. She is still fighting, the doctors have taken the gunshot out of her and now we all are waiting for her to heal. She should be an inspiration to all you girls, because even with the gunshot wound out of her, she is STILL fighting. Malala didn’t use violence to fight for her cause; she used the power of words and her inner strength to keep going.”
After I was done, I noticed niece’s expressions went from completely wide-eyed and slightly shaken to a little sterner and stronger. She then said to me, “She’s tough! I like her! The picture is showing her sleeping, is she still sleeping after the operation?” I nodded and said “Yes, she is still sleeping and while she sleeps she is fighting to wake up. All the doctors are doing whatever possible to help her.” My niece very gently touched her picture and even more gently laid down the newspaper saying a silent prayer with a little prided inspiration.
Every though I am grateful that the conversation is over, I am still mortified that I had to have this conversation with a child and am still filled with dread of the many more questions to come due to the aftermath of this situation. How do you know that you have said the right thing to a child? How do you know that the actions and words used to answer their questions, will not mess them? You don’t, you can just hope and pray that whatever you’ve done to protect and guide your charge will help them somehow. I bet that is exactly how Malala’s parents and guardians felt when they supported her. My heart goes out to them.
On October 11th, a couple days after this heinous crime, I saw on co-VEN’s facebook page (a Pakistani rock band) an e-mail from the TTP to Chris Cork (a Pakistan based journalist). In that they stated the justification to their actions and tried their level best to defame Malala Yousafzai, using Islam, religious citations and condoned the media. To them, that was their premise and anyone who will take action and commit such fervors in the future will be targeted by the TTP. They used citations of stories of the Prophets of Islam and of course Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H). However, they forget very same Prophet that said “If a person raises his daughter, gives her good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall stand between him and hell”. Not to forget Hazart Aisha (P.B.U.H), who was his wife that outlived him and was a noted scholar.
Children ask questions, that is how they learn. Some like to challenge you until their thirst for knowledge is satisfied; that is how they become individuals that are answerable for themselves. That is an essential need, to be able to think for themselves so they can live. Just as education is vital for them, it is their legal and humanitarian right as well.
“I Am Pakistan!”, the well known quote at times likes these makes me hold myself with shaken despondent positivity.
Heal Malala Heal. Heal well and heal strong child. So that your fighting spirit can give us hope and so that we can also add to the quote and say with pride “I am Malala”s strength and fighting fervor in the truest form. I am Pakistan.”