After Taliban gunmen attacked Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai last October simply for asking for an education, supporters gathered outside her London hospital, some bearing signs that read “I Am Malala.”
But nobody carried a poster or raised a placard saying “I Am Taliban,” Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai said at an award ceremony Monday at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Ziauddin Yousafzai was in Oklahoma City this week to accept the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum's 2013 Reflections of Hope Award.
The memorial gave the award to Malala and Ziauddin Yousafzai in recognition of their work to promote education among Pakistani girls.
When gunmen appeared on Malala's school bus last fall and shot her in the head and neck, Pakistani Muslims, who already had suffered for years at the hands of the Taliban, disowned the group, Yousafzai said.
He pleaded with the crowd Monday not to associate the terrorist organization with the Pakistani people or the Islamic faith.
“Let them not be associated with Islam,” Yousafzai said. “They have nothing to do with Islam. If we disown them, kindly don't associate them with Islam.”
Yousafzai is the director of a school for girls he founded in Pakistan's Swat region with the hopes of fostering a generation of female leadership. Before the attempt on her life, Malala was a student at the school.
Memorial Director Kari Watkins said the Yousafzais represented the same ideals that the memorial works to promote.
They are examples of the damage that political violence causes, and how education is a key to overcoming violence and promoting understanding among different religious and political groups and other organizations.
The Yousafzais' message is particularly strong because it carries hope in the midst of instability and political violence, Watkins said. That message fits well with the memorial's mission, she said, and it also reminds westerners of the value of education.
“We take a lot of things for granted here — mainly education,” she said.
Malala first came to international attention when, at the age of 11, she wrote a blog for the BBC demanding education rights for Pakistani girls. She received death threats posted to her Facebook page, published in newspapers and slipped under her door.
Although Malala is still a teenager, Yousafzai said she posed enough of a threat to the Taliban and the group's “ideology of darkness” that they decided it would be necessary to kill her. That's because of what she stood for, he said — education for girls and empowerment and self-determination for women.
“Taliban are more afraid of books than bombs, believe me,” Yousafzai said.
But the hard-line form of Islam the Taliban have tried to enforce wasn't always the norm in Pakistan, Yousafzai. Before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, there was interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
Then, the United States, with the cooperation of Pakistan, began fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan, funding opposition forces. That conflict led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, but Yousafzai said it also taught a generation of young men that it was acceptable to kill others in the name of ethnicity and faith.
But as Pakistanis gain the courage to speak out against the Taliban, Yousafzai said he's hopeful for the future.
The courage to speak against the Taliban, even after being attacked, was what made Malala an international figure, Yousafzai said — at this point, far outpacing himself in terms of name recognition.
“Before that, Malala was my daughter. But after that, I became her father,” Yousafzai said.
“In this male-dominated society, I am very proud that I am one of the few fathers who is known by his daughter.”