'I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban." So began the diary of Malala Yousafzai, an 11-year-old girl living in Pakistan's Swat region in 2009 while the Taliban had de facto control and female education was banned. The BBC website published the diary, and a few months later a New York Times documentary revealed more about the girl behind the pen.
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.
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