Shooting A Free Spirit: Malala Yousafzai – OpEd


By Anthony Borden

The Institute of War & Peace Reporting deplores the attack on Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old blogger in northwest Pakistan who had participated in our Open Minds student training programme.

The attack was a ruthless attempt to stifle independent thought, and curtail Malala’s relentless free spirit. In Taleban eyes, Malala’s particular crime was her courageous support for girls’ education, for which, despite her age, she was reportedly placed on a hit list.

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai

In the attack, on October 9, two gunmen hailed her school bus and sought her out by name. Her Taleban assailant shot her twice from close range, hitting her in the face and the leg, and also injuring two other girls. According to latest reports, doctors in Pakistan say she is in stable condition after an operation to remove a bullet from her neck. The wounds to the other girls were not life-threatening.

The Pakistani Taleban movement claimed responsibility for the attack.

Malala has come of age through struggle against the Taleban, and always understood that she could face reprisals. Her career as a writer and advocate in fact started because of the risk. She took up an invitation from the BBC in 2008 to write a blog about the importance of education for girls only because the parents of another girl, four year’s older, thought the task too dangerous and made her stop. Malala took her place.

Growing up in the Swat Valley, Malala – then just 11 – had been influenced by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who used to run a girls school. He had become known for standing up to the Taleban in Swat during periods of violence. A key part of the Taleban effort to impose their hard-line views in Swat was closing down girls’ schools.

“Those were the most terrible days – the darkest in our history,” Ziauddin Yousafzai told IWPR in 2009. “We spared no efforts to speak up against terrorism and that struggle brought us into the limelight.”

Malala, he said, “got influenced by what was going on and gradually she joined me in our struggle against extremism”.

When the Taleban were driven out of Swat, Malala and her family felt it was safe to reveal her identity. In 2009, Malala took part in IWPR’s Open Minds programme, which encourages young people aged from ten to 19 to write about issues they care about, and hosts discussion clubs to support open debate.

In a 2009 article featuring Malala’s blog success, Open Minds trainer Niaz Khan said her example was inspiring other young people to take part and try to get their own work published, including many girls. All had been catalysed by Malala’s courage and willingness to speak out.

In 2011, Malala was the inspiration for Pakistan’s National Peace Prize. She was the first winner, and the annual award now goes to a young person who contributes to peace and education. She was also runner up for the 2011 International Children’s Peace Prize awarded by the Dutch organisation KidsRights, nominations for which were announced by Nobel Peace prizewinner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Following the attack on Malala, many people in Pakistan have expressed fears that some of the voices – adult as well as the young – raised against extremism could fall silent.

This attack follows the assassination in January of Mukarram Khan Atif, a Pakistani broadcaster and journalist who was also a trainer and advisor to IWPR’s Open Minds programme. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 54 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2001.

“Pray to God for her – we need a lot of prayers,” Malala’s father said after the attack. “I am proud of my daughter.”

Anthony Borden is Executive Director of IWPR.


The Institute for War & Peace Reporting is headquartered in London with coordinating offices in Washington, DC and The Hague, IWPR works in over 30 countries worldwide. It is registered as a charity in the UK, as an organisation with tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) in the United States, and as a charitable foundation in The Netherlands. The articles are originally produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

3 thoughts on “Shooting A Free Spirit: Malala Yousafzai – OpEd

  • October 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Malala is the true face of Pakistan- a country which was created in the name of Islam, democracy, and tolerance. Taliban are the worst definition of political Islam. Why this country is still shy of declaring these barbaric creatures as non-Muslims?

  • October 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

    The questions raised by Mazhar Iqbal are the same questions, “The World is wanting to know the answers for”?

    ” Why this country is still shy of declaring these barbaric creatures as non-Muslims?” They can never do it. It will create civil war are disintegrate Pakistan.

    Another misguided point raised by Iqbal about the creation of Pakistan in the name of Islam, democracy, and tolerance; I think if that was so, then what was the need for its creation at all? Perhaps the history taught in Pakistan is an erroneous one to keep its people misled.

  • October 13, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Pakistani taleban are doing exactly what the corrupt Pakistani govt/armed forces do-no difference..Taleb means student of religious knowledge.But these guys follow the imported saafist wahabi ideology from Saudis,the enemies of the teaching of the Prophet.Sayings of the Prophet.The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyrs.Seek knowledge unto China.Seeking knowledge for ONE hour is better than praying for SEVENTY years.


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