Malala’s Model for the World

"Personal Hero" by  Michael Volpicelli
“Personal Hero” by Michael Volpicelli

How class struggle converges in the classroom in war-torn Pakistan.

by N. R. Gataveckas

The dramatic events surrounding the figure of Malala Yousafzai have made her into a household name, one that people all around the world have come to recognize in admiration. From being featured on the cover of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” issue to having the National Youth Peace Prize made in her name, her heroic plight has intersected with the lives of millions of people as an inspiring reminder of human potential.

Now after the media storm has mostly subsided, we can reflect upon and take the appropriate lessons from the realities of her struggle to bring education to the war-torn valleys of Swat. This other story — the story of the region of northwest Pakistan in recent times — provides a necessary context to Malala’s powerful story.

Too often the media has portrayed Malala in a way that has made her appear isolated and abstracted from the living conditions of her hometown and day-to-day arrangements. This tends to detract from the overall significance of Malala’s struggles and those of millions of girls like her in Pakistan and around the world. Without a basic understanding of the political and economic history of the area, it is impossible to appreciate the scope of Malala’s courage, let alone the strength of her resolve to change the world.

Heavy with Strife: the Taliban’s Reach in Pakistan

Born in Mingora, the largest city of Swat, in 1997, Malala grew up in an area that was already heavy with poverty and strife. Since the partition of India in 1947, Pakistan has gone through a complicated history of political convulsions, balancing between elections, revolts, and occasional interventions by the nation’s military.

The decade of Malala’s birth, for example, started with…

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