'She's unstoppable': A conversation with Malala Yousafzai's parents
Meredith MacLeod, Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, May 25, 2016 9:39PM EDT
The quest by Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai for the education of girls under Taliban rule did not endanger her life, says her mother. Instead, it was the lack of education among terrorists that put her in the crosshairs.
“Education itself is not a danger,” Toor Pekai Yousafzai told CTV News’ Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme, her words translated from Pashto by her husband Ziauddin Yousafzai. She has been inspired to return to school herself to learn to read and write.
“Education did not endanger (Malala’s) life. Education is not a danger. The people who are not educated are dangerous.”
Malala, an outspoken blogger and subject of an American documentary, was shot at three times by a Taliban gunman on a school bus on Oct. 9, 2012. A bullet struck her in the forehead. While she slowly recovered, the assassination attempt galvanized national and international support for the work of the then-15-year-old girl.
The Yousafzais are in Toronto to accept the Courage and Inspiration Luminary Award from the Daughters for Life Foundation.
Malala is in the middle of exams at her high school in Birmingham, England, where the family now lives, and could not attend.
Malala and her family get more than 2,000 invitations from around the world and can only accept three or four a year, says her father. But the story of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the founder of Daughters for Life, was so inspirational that her parents couldn’t refuse.
Abuelaish, then an infertility specialist in the Gaza Strip, lost his three daughters and a niece when an Israeli tank shelled his home in 2009. In their memory, he established a foundation dedicated to the education of girls in the Middle East.
His message of refusing to give in to hate is “transformational,” said Malala’s father.
The wide-ranging chat with LaFlamme was the first TV interview the couple did together outside of Pakistan.
Ziauddin, a private school owner and education activist in his own right, says his view of the place of women changed through his own education. He and his brother went to school but his five sisters did not.
“Education has changed me. That’s why I believe in it.”
Ziauddin says he worried for his daughter’s safety as she spoke out “openly and boldly” about the Talban’s ban on education for girls. He encouraged her not to directly name the terrorist group in her public criticism but she didn’t listen, he says.
Even powerful leaders in Pakistan opposed to the Taliban feared naming them, he says.
Still, Malala’s parents hoped the Taliban would not target a child.
“Taliban were very afraid of her voice because she became so popular a voice in Pakistan for women’s rights and girls’ education. They could not tolerate that voice.”
But instead of silencing her, the Taliban attack on Malala unified people of all faiths and all ages and raised the battle cry for the right to education for girls around the world. The teen, the youngest Nobel Prize winner, has won dozens of awards and recognitions, including honorary Canadian citizenship granted to her in 2014.
But there is still a lot more work to be done. It’s estimated that 62 million girls around the world do not have access to education.
Ziauddin says despite the horrific attack on his daughter, he does not wish he had discouraged her quest.
“She is unstoppable. You can’t discourage her. If even I had tried, I couldn’t have.”
Zaiuddin, who is the United Nations’ special advisor on global education, will also be speaking Thursday night at the Global Peace Centre at the University of Waterloo, where he is honorary chair.
The Malala Foundation has focused on providing education to the 2 million children displaced from Syria. Zaiuddin says Canada’s welcome of Syrian refugees has been “incredible.”
“To welcome people of a different faith like that, it needs a very big heart.”
But he said it is crucial the refugees be fully integrated into their new communities.
“When you meet the Syrian children and their parents you will see the real image of the beautiful Islam and the faith of these people. Then you will know who they are.”
He says too often Islam and Taliban are unfairly linked.
“Islam has nothing to do with the ideology of Taliban… I request that kindly don’t associate 1.6 billion population of Muslims with them. I disowned them. Being a Muslim, I disowned them. And all peaceful Muslims disown them.”
And one day the family will return to Pakistan, likely after Malala finishes her university education, he says.
“The time will come that we will go back to Pakistan because that’s her homeland. This love of your motherland is so much in your blood and in your soul that you can’t help it. You can’t forget it.”