Before Malala

tags: Afghanistan, women, Pakistan



William Dalrymple is the author, most recently, of Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42.

NEW DELHI — Ever since Malala Yousafzai recovered from her shooting by the Taliban last year, she has been universally honored: As well as a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, she has been given everything from the Mother Teresa Award to a place in Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.”...

Few understand the degree to which the stereotypes that bedevil the region — images of terrorist hide-outs and tribal blood feuds, religious fanatics and the oppression of women — are, if not wholly misleading, then at least only one side of a complex society that was, for many years, a center of Gandhian nonviolent resistance against British rule, and remains home to ancient traditions of mystic poetry, Sufi music and strong female leaders.

While writing a history of the first Western colonial intrusion into the region, I heard many stories about the woman Malala Yousafzai is named after: Malalai of Maiwand. For most Pashtuns, the name conjures up not a brave teenage supporter of education, but an equally brave teenage heroine who turned the tide of a crucial battle during the second Anglo-Afghan war.

Malalai does not appear in any British account of the Battle of Maiwand, but if Afghan sources are accurate, her actions led to the British Empire’s greatest defeat in a pitched battle in the course of the 19th century....



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