The Taliban dumped the bodies of those they killed for defying them in the square at night so everyone could see them and be warned. They killed one of Mingora's famous dancers named Shabana, and Swat swiftly watched all its dancers and artists, of whom they were once so proud, flee the country to places like Dubai. People who had once supported Fazlullah began to turn against him, but very few actually spoke out in the way that Malala's father did. People volunteered with the Taliban not because they agreed with them, but rather because they wanted the security that came with being a part of them.
Malala and her family were worried that her father would be a target because of the way he spoke out. Many people, including Malala's father, believed they should institute sharia law in Swat Valley to get rid of Taliban violence, because otherwise they would have nothing left to fight for. Violence, gunshots, and death became a normal part of life for Malala, her brothers, and the other children in Swat Valley.
One day, Malala's father got a call from a BBC correspondent, Abdul Hai Kakar, asking if he could find a female teacher or student from his school to keep a public journal about life under the Taliban. Malala decided that she would do it; she narrated the events of her day on the phone to Hai Kakar each evening so they could be published. Hai Kakar told her about a girl named Anne Frank who kept a similar diary. Because it was dangerous to use her real name, she wrote under the pseudonym of Gul Makai, which is the name of a Pastun folk heroine meaning ‘cornflower’.
Malala wrote about many things, interspersing the tales of Taliban terror in her diary with stories about school and regular family life. At school, people talked about the diary, and although Malala tried to keep it secret, a number of fellow students guessed that she was the author. Slowly Malala's class size dwindled as students and teachers fled the valley to get away from the Taliban. The Taliban's deadline for the closure of all girls' schools was approaching, but Malala, her father, and the headmistress Madam Maryam were all determined to keep the Kushal School open for as long as possible.
Malala and her family allowed a Pakistani journalist, Irfan Ashraf, and an American video journalist, Adam Ellick, to film a documentary on their lives, focusing particularly on Malala's school. The cameras followed her as her school closed officially on January 14, 2009. When the documentary aired, a female Stanford University student from Islamabad named Shiza Shahid tracked down Malala and her family to speak to them and support them. With all of this publicity, Malala's family and friends once again feared for her and her father's safety, but no one really believed that the Taliban would ever try to kill a child.
After pressure from a number of people, including Hai Kakar, Fazlullah's Taliban regime lifted the ban on girls' education up to Year 4. Although Malala was in Year 5, she pretended she was younger than she actually was and started going to school again. One day in February, it appeared that at long last peace had come when the Pakistani army announced they had struck a deal with the Taliban to institute sharia law in the valley in return for the militants ceasing their fighting. Their American allies saw this as giving in to the terrorists, but the people of Swat just wanted to live in peace.
This peace did not last long, however, as the Taliban continued to terrorize people, and no one could tell whether it was the government or Fazlullah who was in charge. It was clear that the Taliban thought the Pakistani government had given in and they could now do whatever they wanted. In May, the army began to launch Operation True Path to drive the Taliban out of Swat, and announced that all residents should leave. Malala's family wanted to stay, but eventually they knew they had to leave like everyone else.
Leaving the valley was the hardest thing Malala had ever done. She was afraid she would never see it again. They escaped Mingora in the car of a friend, Dr. Afzal; they chose not to stay in the refugee camps that had been set up for IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), since they were overcrowded and terrible living conditions. They spent their first night in Dr. Afzal's house, and then Malala's father left to go to Peshawar to warn people about what was happening while the rest of them went to their family's village in Shangla. Malala started going to the small school in Shangla with her cousins, and they heard on the news about the army battling to take Mingora back from the Taliban.
At last Malala’s father sent for them in Peshawar, and the whole family then made its way to Islamabad to stay with the family of Shiza, the Stanford student. They continued moving from place to place over the course of two months, and Malala and her father continued giving interviews about the situation. Nobody remembered Malala's twelfth birthday, which passed while they were living away from home.
In order to fully understand the Taliban's goals, it is important to understand exactly what it means to implement sharia law in a country or region. Sharia law is a religious legal system based on Islam. This means that in a nation under sharia law, all the laws and methods of governance come from the parameters of Islam. The sources of sharia law are the Quran, which is the Islamic holy book, and the Hadiths, which are narratives of the life of Islam's most prominent figure, the prophet Muhammad. Sharia governs every aspect of life, from marriage to hygiene to economics. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban sought to implement a severe interpretation of sharia law, with death as a common punishment for breaking the law, along with a particularly brutal treatment of women.
While it is easy for outsiders to condemn the Taliban and insist the Pakistanis continue to resist them, this kind of resistance is much more difficult from the perspective of the people living in Swat Valley during the Taliban's takeover. As Malala points out, when people are seeing their schools bombed and their friends and families killed on a daily basis, it is difficult to think of anything but achieving peace again at last, through whatever means necessary. Malala's memoir provides the little-heard perspective of an average citizen inside a struggling country, which is an eye-opening point of view for many readers who have never stopped to consider this kind of life before.
In many ways, the diary of Gul Makai that Malala begins to write as an eleven-year-old living under the Taliban mirrors this memoir that she eventually writes as an older teenager, having escaped the oppressive regime. Both serve the same purpose: to relay the truth about life in Pakistan at this time to an international audience, raising awareness of the struggles Malala and so many others faced. The difference, though, is that when writing her blog diary, Malala did not feel secure enough to use her real name, because she was recording her experiences as she was living them. In I Am Malala, she finally speaks as herself, telling her story in retrospect with the new wisdom she has gained.
Though the Taliban's takeover affected Malala's life in countless horrible ways, one of the worst things it did was push her away from her home. From the very beginning of this memoir, Malala made it clear that Swat Valley is much more than just a birthplace to her. Swat's beauty and culture has defined her entire life, becoming such a part of her that to be forcibly separated from it takes a huge toll on her and her family. By driving her from Swat, the Taliban has taken away part of Malala's identity. This means she will have to work even harder to overcome the challenges of life under this brutal regime.
The events of this narrative span Malala's life from birth to seventeen years old, but they focus on the particularly formative period of her life when the Taliban occupied her home. Thus, this is a coming-of-age story for Malala, who was forced to grow up extremely quickly as she sought to make sense of what was going on around her. In the beginning of the memoir Malala was a carefree student, happy in school and at home, whose greatest concern was beating the other girls for the top rank in her class. Now the Taliban has complicated her life and forced her into adulthood early as she tries to learn from her father how to speak out against them. A girl as young as Malala should not have to face such a rapid loss of innocence, but she rises to the occasion, showing her resilience every step of the way.