The autobiography of the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai, has been banned by Pakistan’s private school association. No small matter given that Pakistan’s hugely popular independent schools teach half of its pupils.Today’s Independent on Sunday reports it saying that I am Malala would have a “negative” effect on its pupils due to the way it talks about Islam – so it’s being banned from the libraries of 40,000 affiliated schools. I’ve read it – a great book, but scathing about jihadis. Specifically, jihadis who ban books. Here’s Malala:-

“My father’s college held a heated debate in Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 11.16.26a packed room. Many students argued that the book  [The Satanic Verses] should be banned and burned and the fatwa upheld. My father also saw the book as offensive to Islam but believes strongly in freedom of speech. ‘First, let’s read the book and then why not respond with our own book,’ he suggested. He ended by asking in a thundering voice, ‘Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not my Islam!’

The same question can now be asked of his daughter’s book. Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against its corruption – by a 16-year-old Muslim girl? But’s not a reflection of Islam, but of the mutant strain of Islam which she excoriates in her book.

And why has I Am Malala been banned by the private schools that her father championed? It could well be a reflection not of their pusillanimity but of realpolitik. Her book details the abuse and hostility such schools already face. To stock such books may be a bigger risk that Pakistan’s private schools are willing to take.

The president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, Mirza Kashif Ali, has complained that Malala does not use the usual honorific,  ‘Peace Be Upon Him,’ after referring to Mohammed. (Which baffles me, as there’s no reference to Mohammed in my version of her book. Anyway.) Kashif Ali is quoted thusly in Pakistan Today:-

“We run private schools in which more than 50% enrollment is of girls and an equal percentage of teachers is also female and we are striving for women empowerment and we stand by the movements and drive to give the denied rights to women” said the president adding: “That doesn’t mean that we will allow our children to toe Malala’s line with severe attacks on our basic beliefs”.

It is, in no small part, to escape the corrupt government apparatus that people like Malala’s father set up schools. And she is not just campaigning for universal education, but for these free schools – as the brilliant James Tooley says in this week’s Spectator. As he puts it:-

When she writes about the right to education, this is the reality that Malala is alluding to. To pigeonhole her as ‘the girl who stood up for education’, and include under that rubric only government education, misses something important about what she and her family stand for. Not mediocre government education, as is found in Pakistan and the developing world over. But the right to educational choice, to educational freedom; the right to a private education.

And where is she going to school now that she’s living in Birmingham? To private school of course, Edgbaston High School for Girls. She and her family have made the same choice here as they did back in Pakistan. It’s odd that this detail is not mentioned in her autobiography, where she just says ‘It’s a good school’ — nothing about it being private. I wonder why not. Is it because she and her family take it for granted?

Malala and her father are part of a global movement, where families choose low-cost private schools because they don’t think government schools are good enough. Those running low-cost private schools around the world, in places sometimes as difficult as the Swat Valley, against the odds, with governments and international agencies often unsympathetic, need Malala and her father to stand up for them, to be their champions But all the commentators who have jumped on the Malala bandwagon proclaim her as only fighting for the right to public education. Nothing in her and her family’s actions, her past or present life story, suggests that she is.

It’s a brilliant piece. Do read the whole thing. 

UPDATE Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, has read the above post and has said (below) that he’ll try to challenge the ban. I’ll keep Coffee Housers posted.