Managers of privately run schools in Pakistan have banned Malala Yousafzai’s book from their libraries, alleging that parts of it disrespect Islam and that its teenage Pakistani author has acted as a “propaganda tool of the West” to defame her native country.
Yousafzai’s memoir “I Am Malala” was released in October and is co-written by a British journalist (Christina Lamb).
The book remains among the best sellers internationally, but it has come under fire from right-wing groups in Pakistan, where private schools have decided to disallow it from being read by their students.
Adeeb Javedani is president of All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, which represents more than 40,000 elite institutions across the country. He defended the decision to ban Malala’s book.
Javedani insisted it is beyond anyone’s comprehension that a young girl of Malala’s age can write things like Ahmadis are being declared infidels in Pakistan, whereas no such movement is under way. Javedani believes that Malala herself "has not written this book and someone representing Europe (general reference to the West) has done so under Malala’s name."
He says Pakistani education authorities have assured his organization they do not plan to include Malala's memoir in the textbooks being taught at government and private schools.
Under pressure from Islamic parties, the minority Ahmadi community was declared non-Muslims in the early 1970s. Malala in her book has highlighted the fact that Ahmadis say they are Muslims, but the laws of the land do not allow them to say it openly.
Javedani and others point out that Malala has mentioned the Prophet Muhammad’s name without the abbreviation PUH, or “peace be upon him,” which is considered mandatory in Muslim nations.
But rights activists, like Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy of Islamabad’s prestigious Quaid-e-Azam University, say that pro-Taliban elements within the society are deliberately distorting facts to punish Malala for advocating her right to education.
“She does not in her book say that Ahmadis are Muslims," said Hoodboy. "She simply says that these are people who are being persecuted, and that is a fact of life. Nobody can dispute that Ahmadis today are the most persecuted of minorities, all of which are persecuted in Pakistan today.”
Hoodbhoy also insisted that Malala is being wrongly accused of defending British author Salman Rushdie, who angered many Muslims with his book "The Satanic Verses.”
“The fact that Salman Rushdie has been banned and excoriated in Pakistan is an indication of the kind of extreme intolerance that has come to characterize Pakistani culture," said Hoodboy.
Malala campaigned against Taliban attempts to blow up schools and ban female education in her native Swat district in 2009, until a military offensive flushed the Islamists out of the northwestern region. She attracted international attention late last year when militants tried to assassinate her while she was coming back from school.
Malala was airlifted to Britain with the help of Pakistani authorities for medical treatment and she is now living there with her family.
Professor Hoodboy says the conspiracy theories surrounding Malala’s episode are a worrying indication of the fact that the influence of the Taliban and the people who think like the Taliban has significantly grown in Pakistan.
“This is a young girl who ought to be a heroine for people across the board in Pakistan, and yet there is only a minority which supports her," said Hoodboy. "On the other hand a mass murderer, a killer of Pakistanis like Hakimullah Mehsud, has been given the degree of being a martyr."
Mehsud was the chief of the Pakistani Taliban and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis. Last week an American drone strike against his hideout in the North Waziristan tribal region killed him. The Taliban has appointed as its new leader Mullah Fazlullah, who masterminded the attack on Malala.