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'I am Malala' banned

Shakoor Rahim, Islamabad, Shamil ShamsNovember 12, 2013

An association of private schools in Pakistan has banned teenage Pakistani activist Malala Yousufzai's newly released book 'I am Malala.' Its argument: the book 'corrupts the young students' minds.'

An autobiography by Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, entitled 'I am Malala' is pictured in a book store in London, on October 8, 2013 (Photo: ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images

A number of private schools in Pakistan have imposed a ban on the 16-year-old Malala Yousufzai's best-selling biographical account "I am Malala." Their association says the book will not be allowed in their libraries.

The book has received international acclaim, but in Malala's home country it has been ridiculed and criticized. Conservative groups have condemned it by alleging that the autobiography is derogatory towards Islam's prophet Muhammad and the country's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Right-wing groups also claim that Malala, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, is sympathetic in the book towards Salman Rushdie - author of the controversial novel Satanic Verses - and the minority Ahmadiyahs, who are considered "non-Muslims" in the Islamic republic.

Malala was shot by armed men in October last year along with three other girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan's restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, where her book is unofficially banned. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack and said in a statement that Malala had been attacked for promoting "secularism." After receiving initial medical treatment in Pakistan, Malala was sent to the United Kingdom where she is presently residing with her family.

A woman browses a copy of Malala Yousufzai's book "I am Malala" at a book store in Islamabad October 8, 2013 (Photo: REUTERS/Mian Khursheed)
Loved abroad, Malala is maligned in her own countryImage: Reuters

Before being shot, the teenager had been campaigning for girls' rights to education in Swat and was a vocal critic of the Taliban. She was praised internationally for writing about Islamist atrocities in a BBC Urdu service blog.

Freedom of expression

Pakistani lawyer Ali Zafar told DW that the ban on the book was a "clear violation" of the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Pakistani constitution. "The private schools' decision could therefore be challenged in court. You cannot unilaterally decide to ban the book," Zafar said.

Reacting to the schools' decision, Farzana Bari, head of the Women's Studies department at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, said that only the government had the right to decide whether the book should be banned or not. "If the government believes the book offends a religious group or community, or it preaches violence in any way, it can do whatever it wants."

Although Islamabad has not taken an official position on the book, Rafiq Rajwana, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, says that the autobiography is "controversial" and the government would ban it if necessary.

"The book contains material which defames Pakistan and Islam. It seems as if 'I am Malala' is part of a huge conspiracy. It is an attempt to make young Pakistanis liberal and turn them against their country. We cannot afford that," Rajwana told DW.

A polarizing figure

Despite the fact that liberals hail Malala as a symbol of pride for the country, she has become an extremely divisive figure in Pakistan. A majority of conservatives alleges she is working against Islam and the country.

Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai gives a speech after receiving the RAW (Reach All Women) in War Anna Politkovskaya Award at the Southbank Centre in London October 4, 2013 (Photo: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)
Malala has won a number of prestigious international awardsImage: Reuters

"Isn't it strange that many Pakistanis share the Taliban's views on Malala?" asked Shareef Ahmed, a Karachi-based peace activist. "I think it shows that the Taliban ideology is popular in Pakistan. Malala has exposed quite a lot of people, even those who are not hardcore extremists."

Many in Pakistan believe that local and international media are unnecessarily creating hype around the young activist. Right-wing parties in the South Asian nation claim that the campaign to promote Malala is proof that there is an "international lobby" behind the whole issue.

"I don't think that Malala deserved to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I think there are more deserving people in Pakistan who should have been nominated for the award," Karachi-based Shiite activist Syed Ali Mujtaba Zaidi told DW. "Just because you (Malala) got shot by the Taliban does not make you worthy of the nomination."

Supporters of the 16-year-old say that it is "Malala haters" who are running a smear campaign against the teenager. The recent ban on the book is a reflection of a mindset, they say.