Education and tolerance are the strongest weapons in defeating terrorism, Malala Yousafzai has said in an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye one year on from the Peshawar school massacre.
Malala, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan because she spoke out for the rights of girls to be educated, told this newspaper last week that she had forgiven the men who tried to kill her in 2012, because she wanted to spread the message of love.
The 18-year-old was speaking last Tuesday (15) in Birmingham where she and her family held an event to mark the one-year anniversary of the Taliban attack in Pakistan. A total of 134 children were shot dead as they attended the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014.
Malala told Eastern Eye: “When I got attacked, I forgave the people who attacked me because I wanted to give them the message of forgiveness. The message (was) that I want kindness for myself, but (that) I also want kindness and love for you as well. This is the strongest way you can defeat terrorism – be kind and be loving towards others.”
A joint winner of the Nobel Peace prize (alongside Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi), Malala was in 2013 recognised as the most powerful Asian in the GG2 Power 101, published by Garavi Gujarat, a sister title of Eastern Eye.
Dressed in a navy salwar kameez with a trademark shawl draped over her head, the softly spoken A-level student activist, who now lives in Birmingham, told Eastern Eye the bloody onslaught last year brought back vivid memories of the day she herself was shot.
“It was a horrible horrible incident. I still remember that day when I heard that 132 children were brutally attacked by the terrorists. We just could not believe that the terrorists would kill children. You just think for a second, what was their crime?”
Ahmad Nawaz, 14, who was shot in the arm and whose brother was killed, and Mohammed Ibrahim, 13, who was paralysed from the waist down, recounted their ordeal to reporters.
In total, 151 people died in the country’s worst-ever extremist attack after nine extremists scaled the walls of the army-run school, lobbing grenades and opening fire on terrified children and teachers.
Recalling her childhood, Malala said people were killed and bombs went off almost every day.
“We would hear that people are killed and there was a bomb blast. The day that we would hear there was no bomb blast, it was news for us.”
Malala said it was her dream to see a day in Pakistan where children would be able to go to school without fearing for their lives.
“That’s my dream – where we have no fear that we will be shot in schools or that our school will be bombed. That is what I have been campaigning for – that children get education and that it is quality education, that it is safe education,” she said. “And that what happened in the Peshawar school never happens again. That’s the commitment we have made.”
Through the Malala Fund, which she set up with her father, they have pledged to enable girls to complete 12 years of safe quality education and have projects in Pakistan, Kenya and Sierra Leone.
Malala, who is from the Swat Valley where she has not been able to return since being shot, strongly condemned terrorists using Islam to justify carrying out atrocities.
“Islam is a religion and you can interpret it in different ways. They have taken this meaning from Islam that you can kill people, but this is not what I have learnt,” she said.
“I believe in equality and I believe in peace, harmony and tolerance. This is what Islam has taught me. I am hopeful that they will understand Islam because looking at what the religion says and what they are doing-comparing that tells me they haven’t read the Qur’an.”
Further investment in education would help to stop the fight against terror, the teenager added.
“World leaders sometimes go and send soldiers and fight wars and in the end they forget that to stop this ideology of terrorism, you have to educate the future generation.
“We want to start a campaign where you fight through the pen. It is an operation of the people to spread knowledge that this is how we can fight against the ideology of terrorism.”
She added: “In the Middle East or south Asia, if we look at terrorism in these countries, every second day you hear that people are shot, people are killed, schools are bombed and it loses the attention that we need to give it. It’s just so common that it no longer remains the news.”
Malala said it was important that the media and world leaders gave equal attention to terrorism in every country.
At the Birmingham ceremony last week, Nawaz, who is now receiving medical treatment in the UK, recounted his horrifying ordeal.
“I saw my teacher burned alive in that incident and the friends with whom I was playing. I was surrounded by the dead bodies of those friends. So it was the horrifying experience of my life and I still have nightmares,” he said.
Malala’s father Ziauddin, who spoke at the commemorative evening, criticised Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s comments calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the US after a Muslim husband and wife killed 14 people in a shooting rampage in California.
“It will be very unfair, very unjust that we associate 1.6 billion with a few terrorist organisations,” Ziauddin said, referring to the number of Muslims worldwide.