Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai, 16, rose to international fame when she was shot in the head last October for speaking out against the Taliban’s ban on girl’s education. Malala made a remarkable recovery, becoming the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Margaret Warner talks to Yousafzai about her mission.
- Malala says assassination threats can’t weaken her cause
- Malala: Nobel Peace Prize committee made the ‘right decision’
- Malala, your courage has inspired us
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to a closer look at one of the favorites for this year’s Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan.
Our own Margaret Warner spent time with the young activist in Washington this afternoon, and begins with this report.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI, Human Rights Activist: Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.
MARGARET WARNER: Spending her 16th birthday as no one else ever has, this Pakistani student captivated the world when she spoke at the United Nations three months ago.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution, education first.
MARGARET WARNER: And in March, she became the youngest-ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala Yousafzai’s call to educate girls began in 2009 in what once had been Pakistan’s vacation paradise, the Swat Valley. Just 11, she began writing a blog for BBC Urdu about life under the ultra-conservative Taliban, who had taken over Swat.
Encouraged by her father, a girls’ school owner and activist himself, she raised her voice against the Taliban’s brutality and its ban on girls’ education. With the release of a New York Times documentary that year, she became a media celebrity in Pakistan and beyond, but her work drew the ire of those who opposed her message.
And a year ago this week, as the 15-year-old was riding home in a school bus with her friends, a Taliban gunman boarded the bus and shot her in the head. The injuries were life-threatening. She was unconscious for days. But once flown to the U.K. for surgery and rehabilitation, she made a remarkable recovery.
Boys and girls from Pakistan and around the world rallied to her side and her cause, proclaiming, “I am Malala.” She now goes to school in the U.K., where she lives with her family. But the awards kept coming and the demands to speak.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: We can fight war through dialogue, peace and education.
MARGARET WARNER: And she’s now on the road promoting her just-released book, “I Am Malala.”
In the face of the world’s praise, some back in Pakistan are more skeptical.
MOHAMMAD ATEEQ, Student (through interpreter): All this recognition may be good for her internationally. It may be good for her family. But we have not benefited from it. Neither has Swat gained from it in any way.
MARGARET WARNER: But she continues speaking and raising money to bring education to more girls around the world, despite renewed death threats against her from the Taliban.
I spoke to the young activist leader earlier today.
Malala Yousafzai, thank you for joining us.
Tell us what inspired you, at such a young age, to start speaking out for girls’ education in really such a dangerous environment.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: First of all, my father inspired me, because he’s a great father, but as well, he is a great social activist and women’s rights activist.
At that time, when Swat — the beautiful valley — was suffering from terrorism, he spoke — he spoke out. And he spoke for women’s rights, because at that time, more than 400 schools were blasted, girls were flogged, people were slaughtered, markets were closed. There was ban on women to go to market. Girls were not allowed to go to school. And in that hard situation, he inspired me, because he spoke. And that’s what I learned from him.
MARGARET WARNER: Did you ever think, though, that your outspokenness, and the fact that you became a media star in Pakistan, would make you or your family a target?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: I think being — living in such a hard situation when there are terrorists and they slaughter people every night is still hard — is still a threat.
So it’s a better idea to speak out for your rights and then die. I prefer that one. So that’s why we spoke at that time. We said, one has to speak. Why are we waiting for someone else? The governments were not taking an action. The army was not taking a good action. So that’s why we said that we will speak out for our rights. This is what we can do, and we tried our best.
MARGARET WARNER: So now, you’ve been forced, of course, to leave Pakistan. You’ve become this international symbol of bravery and of speaking up for girls’ education. But what has happened to the girls you left behind? What is their situation?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: The girls who are in Pakistan and in Swat, especially, it’s really hard for them to go to school. There are so many reasons.
Many girls do not go to school because of poverty. Some girls can’t go to school because of the child labor and child trafficking. Some parents don’t send their children to school, because they don’t know its importance at all, and some girls don’t go to school because of the cultural norms and taboos. So there are still many issues that are stopping girls to go to school.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think the Taliban — what is their vision of Islam that makes them so opposed to girls’ education? And, if so, can you really change that and can you change that culture just by educating girls?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: The first thing is that the Taliban have misunderstood Islam.
They have made it — they have never studied Islam deeply. I think they have not read Koran, even, because in Islam it is said that it is the right of every girl and every boy to get education, to get knowledge. Islam says about equality, there’s no difference between a man and a woman. Islam tells us to respect each other, don’t judge either other on the basis of religion.
So I think the terrorists have forgotten that. They only remember jihad and fighting. So I think they must read Koran first. They must learn from it first and then they say. So that’s why — they are just misusing the name of Islam for their own personal benefits.
MARGARET WARNER: There has been a backlash against you. Some Pakistanis say you’ve shamed their country, or that you’re an agent of Western interests who want to undermine Pakistan, or Islam. How does that make you feel, when you’re out here fighting this fight?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: The first thing is that it’s one’s right to express his feeling or her feelings.
When I look at the group that speak against me in Pakistan, or anywhere, it’s a very small group, a very tiny group. I must look at the millions of people. I must look at the support of people who raise the banners of “I am Malala” and who are still supporting me.
So, I think I must not lose hope, and I must not look at the small group. Rather, I should see those millions of people who are praying for me and who are supporting me in my cause of education.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, there was a new threat issued against you just this week from a Taliban spokesman, who said, essentially, if she keeps speaking out like this, he said, we will target her again and attack whenever we get the chance.
Do you feel you’re still in danger, even living abroad?
*MALALA YOUSAFZAI: * I think the Talib did not threaten me. He just reminded me the threats, that, remember.
MARGARET WARNER: Is there a difference?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: The thing is that they have already threatened me when I was in Swat, and then later on they attacked me.
But the thing is, that now I’m living a second life. And God has given me this new life for the cause of education, and I believe that even death is supporting the cause of education, even death does not want to kill me, so how can those Taliban kill me then?
And I think that I must not be afraid of death. First, I might have been before this attack, but now if even they threat me, I’m not afraid of any threat. I have seen death already. So now I’m more powerful. Now I’m more courageous. And I will continue my campaign.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, do you get to go to school yourself anymore with all these public appearances? Do you have any semblance of a normal life in England?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: I go to school in a car because it’s far away.
And, yes, it’s true that when I go to a market, when I go to a park, people just gather around me, and they want to talk to me. They want to have picture with me. Some people want autograph.
But it’s the love of people, and I think it’s just a great honor for me that now people — now I can reach people.
MARGARET WARNER: There was a lot of anticipation this week, the last few weeks that you, the youngest ever Nobel Prize nominee, were going to win today, and it went elsewhere.
What was it like — what did it feel like, first of all, to have all of those expectations, and is it a letdown not to have won?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: If we just forget about the decision that was taken about the Nobel Peace Prize, I think people gave me their prize. They nominated me.
And that is the great prize for me. If I get an award, if I get a paper, it does not matter, because when I look at the prayers of people and their support and how much they love me, I think that is the biggest prize that I have ever received.
And then I have a prize in my mind that — for which I will struggle, for which I will do the campaign, and it is the prize that is the award to see every child to go to school. And I will serve my whole life for that, for that is the prize that I want to get in my life. And I think Nobel Peace Prize committee — the decision they have taken is the right decision, because I need to work a lot.
MARGARET WARNER: Malala Yousafzai, thank you so much.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Nice to talk to you.
MARGARET WARNER: It’s a great honor to meet you.