Malala Yousafzai literally took a bullet for refusing to abandon her education. Event organizers at the University of Peshwar may have dodged a bullet after local government officials halted the release of Malala’s pro-education memoir, I Am Malala, scrapping an event that would have served at the book’s Pakistani launch. But was there a credible security threat – or something else entirely – that led to the sudden cancellation?
One of the event’s organizers, Dr. Khadim Hussain, was contacted by Provincial Information Minister Shah Farman on Monday night to inform him that the book had been banned. Inayatullah Khan – a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative political group that supports Sharia law – also demanded that the memoir launch be called off.
“We said that freedom of expression, education and conflict were the three areas of debate and it was all connected with Central Asian studies. I told them the government should also come and be part of this debate,” Hussain, director of the Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, told Pakistan Today.
Hussain, who initially challenged the government orders, was then approached by the university’s vice-chancellor and registrar. Both echoed the government in their calls to stop the event. Even the Campus Peace Corps, administered by the provincial police, distanced themselves from the launch by refusing to provide security.
“[The cancellation] is against the spirit of freedom of expression and promotion of education because holding a ceremony in honor of Malala Yousufzai means to scale up awareness about child rights,” Hussain added. “They stopped us to please the Taliban.”
Farman countered Hussain by accusing event organizers of trying to get money from sympathetic Malala supporters in the U.S. In her home country, few people view the 16-year-old activist as a hero.
“The episode underlines the antipathy among many Pakistanis towards [Malala],” wrote The Guardian. “While she has been hailed in the West for her campaign against extremism, in Pakistan she is widely regarded with suspicion, with many people believing conspiracy theories that the story of the Taliban attempt to assassinate her… was untrue or exaggerated.”
Late last year, the president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association made the controversial decision to ban I Am Malala from the libraries of more than 40,000 affiliated schools.
“[Malala] was a role model for children, but this book has made her controversial,” Adeeb Mirza, the association’s chairman, told Al Jazeera. “Through this book, she became a tool in the hands of the Western powers.”
Mirza claims that the memoir doesn’t show enough respect for Islam or the Prophet Muhammad.