He Named Me Malala


            The “He” in the title refers to her Dad, who is obviously a central figure in Malala's life. And no, that doesn't mean he's overbearing, or a little weird, it just means that he has stuck by her through her very eventful young life, and she obviously loves him for it.  She also makes it clear that none of her activism was pushed in any way by him; it was all her decision.  He just stood by her.  Yes, she's the Pakistani teenager who won the Nobel Peace Prize, but maybe he should get Dad of the Year.

            Malala was named after a legendary figure in Pakistani folklore.  Malala was a young Pashtun girl during the 1880 battle against England, who saw her countrymen retreating from the British, and climbed up a hillside to encourage them to stand their ground.  She was killed in the subsequent fighting, but is credited for bravely rallying the troops against their common enemy.

            This is exactly what Malala Yousafzai has been doing, except the enemy is much more pernicious:  the Taliban forces of her own countrymen.  When they take over an area, they enforce their dictatorial Muslim rule, which includes subjugating the women, keeping them out of the public eye, and forcing them to wear coverings when they do leave the house.  Oh, and no more education for the girls.  It's not necessary; they don't need it.  The Koran tells them all they need to know to serve their men.

            Malala was already in school, and a very good student, when the Taliban fighters started bombing the girls' schools.   Everybody was cowed into submission; nobody wanted to speak out against it because of fear of personal retaliation.  But Malala did.  Like her namesake from 125 years ago, she sought to rally her countrymen as she saw them retreating in confusion and fear from the enemy.  As a fourteen-year-old, she even held news conferences, which were widely publicized, which of course, made her a target.  And target her they did.  The gunmen attacked her school bus, and shot her in the head, and left her for dead.

            Almost miraculously, Malala survived.  Told she might never speak or walk again, she underwent the painful rehabilitation with the same determination of spirit that had already characterized her young life.  And now, three years later, she is, in fact, able to speak and walk again, though she wears a titanium plate in her skull, and the left side of her face is still swollen and paralyzed, and she can't hear out of her left ear.  And her smile is crooked.  But she is undaunted.  Despite no longer being the young beauty she used to be, she is still campaigning for the right of girls to be educated, not just in her own country, but everywhere.  So she has become something of a celebrity where she now lives, in England, and even in far-off places like Nigeria, where it is often a struggle for young girls to receive a good education.  In 2014, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

            Director Davis Guggenheim, despite the serious subject matter, does the best he can to introduce some lighthearted elements.  First there is the interspersed animation, using bright, cheerful water color artistry.  Then there is the human touch:  Malala is shown playing cards with her family, jabbing at her siblings playfully (she has an older and a younger brother).  When asked who her boyfriend is, she holds her hand to her mouth and giggles, like almost any teenager put on the spot by a teasing adult.  But when Malala is shown speaking to groups (including the United Nations Assembly), she demonstrates again her fearless public persona, and we are drawn to her, because she seems both so down-to-earth, and so determined to plead for her cause, in a simple, straightforward, self-effacing, compelling way.  Most endearingly of all, she says she does not speak out because her situation is unique, but because it isn't.

            Hooray for Malala Yousafzai.  May your tribe increase.


Questions For Discussion:

1)                  What can be done to advocate for girls education worldwide?

2)                  When have you been afraid to speak out against an injustice?

3)                  When have you paid a personal price for an unpopular stand?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas