Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl, became well-known in 2009 when she wrote a series of published diary articles about the right to education, especially for girls. Last October, in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai in the head and neck while she was riding a school bus. But the assassination attempt failed, and since then she has not stopped her campaign for all children to attend school.
Despite new threats on her life by the Taliban, Yousafzai is not deterred. “Now I’m living a second life. And God has given me this new life for the cause of education,” Yousafzai said to NewsHour chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner in an interview Friday.
“I think that I must not be afraid of death. First, I might have been before this attack, but now if even they threat[en] me, I’m not afraid … I have seen death already. So now I’m more powerful. Now I’m more courageous. And I will continue my campaign.”
MARGARET WARNER: 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: In 2009, there was a military operation against the Taliban, and that military operation became successful, because the people of Swat spoke for their rights, and they said that we want to see peace in our valley. And after that, girls started going to school. Our life was getting normal; women were allowed to go to markets, and a change was coming in our society. And many schools were then rebuilt as well. But later on, I was shot, and then I had to be in U.K. because of my treatment. But 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 Quran, 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. Respect each other, be kind to each other, and this is brotherhood that we have learned from Islam. So I think the terrorists have forgotten that. They only remember jihad and fighting. So I think they must read Quran 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 (spread ?), 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 Taliban 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. So this is such a great heart that God has given me to reach people, and I’m thankful to God, and I’m thankful to people as — for their love and support.
MARGARET WARNER: You have said you want to go into politics — I presume back in Pakistan. Do you think you’ll be able to go back? What will it take for you to be able to go back?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Pakistan is the country where I was born, and I am a patriotic citizen of Pakistan, and I love my country. And I want to be sincere to my country. And I believe — and I am truly hopeful that I will go back to Pakistan, because I want to fight against terrorism in Pakistan. I want to fight for those girls who are deprived of education. And I have chosen politics, because through politics, I can serve the whole country. So I am hopeful, and I think if I empower myself with education, if I get knowledge, then it would be much more easier for me to get success in my cause.
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’ll struggle, for which I’ll do the campaign, and it is the prize that is the award to see every child to go to school. And I’ll 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 — if they take a decision, I think they would have a criteria, and they will sit together; they will take a decision. The decision they have taken is a right decision because I need to work a lot.
MARGARET WARNER: Malala Yousafzai, thank you so much.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Thank you so much. Nice to talk to you.
MARGARET WARNER: It’s a great honor to meet you.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Nice to meet you too.
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