From what clay?

Kamila Shamsie had a great piece on Malala in the Guardian yesterday.

Today, as Malala Yousafzai remains critical but stable in hospital following an assassination attempt by the Taliban, I watched the laughing, wise, determined 11-year-old in that video and thought of the Urdu phrase, “kis mitti kay banee ho” – “from what clay were you fashioned?”

It’s an expression that changes meaning according to context. Sometimes, as when applied to Malala Yousafzai, it’s a compliment, alluding to a person’s exceptional qualities. At other times it indicates some element of humanity that’s missing. From what clay were you fashioned, I’d like to say to the TTP (the Pakistan Taliban), in a tone quite different to that in which I’d direct it to the 14-year-old girl they shot “because of her pioneering role in preaching secularism and so-called enlightened moderation” and who, according to their spokesman, they intend to target again.

That’s a good phrase; I like it. And it does sum up what I’ve been thinking and feeling (along with countless others, I should think). What a polarity: the exceptional qualities of a Malala and the horrible qualities of the men who want her dead.

Because the state of Pakistan allowed the Taliban to exist, and to grow in strength, Malala Yousafzai couldn’t simply be a schoolgirl who displayed courage in facing down school bullies but one who, instead, appeared on talk shows in Pakistan less than a year ago to discuss the possibility of her own death at the hands of the Taliban.

“Sometimes I imagine I’m going along and the Taliban stop me. I take my sandal and hit them on the face and say what you’re doing is wrong. Education is our right, don’t take it from us. There is this quality in me – I’m ready for all situations. So even if (God let this not happen) they kill me, I’ll first say to them, what you’re doing is wrong.”

Well she did say it, but she didn’t have time to say it to the ones who stopped the school van and shot her and two other girls, so the rest of us have to say it for her. What the Taliban are doing is wrong.

For political differences, seek political solutions. But what do you do in the face of an enemy with a pathological hatred of woman? What is it that you’re saying if you say (and I do, in this case) there can be no starting point for negotiations? I believe in due process of law; I know violence begets violence. But as I keep clicking my Twitter feed for updates on Malala Yousafzai’s condition, and find instead one statement after another from the government, political parties, and the army (writing in capital letters) condemning the attack, I find myself thinking, do any of you know the way forward? Today, I’m unable to see it. But Malala, I’m sure, would tell me I’m wrong. Let her wake up, and do that.

I’ve been doing that too. Her condition is still critical. She’s been moved to Rawalpindi for more treatment.


  1. johnthedrunkard says

    In Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ there is a line from Wilfred Owen. After descibing some particulary horror of war he asks:

    ‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’

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