BBC sounds, music, radio, podcasts Hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the Desert Island Discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were castaway to a desert island. And for right reasons, the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. My castaway this week is the activist Malala Yousafzai. Her status is such that she requires no surname, let alone an introduction.
But for tradition's sake, here goes. She's the youngest Nobel Prize winner in history and she jokes the only recipient of the Peace Prize who still fights with her younger brothers. She was already a prominent campaigner for girls education in her home country of Pakistan when nine years ago, a Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus and shot her. She was 15. Who is Malala? He asked before he opened fire at 23. She's still standing up and telling the world who she is and how that's changing.
Today, she's an Oxford graduate as well as a Nobel laureate, a best selling author and co-founder, along with her father of the Malala Fund, which campaigns for girls education around the world. In 2017, the UN designated April 10th Malala Day in honor of her birthday, she says. Since I was 10 years old, the principal of my life has been to stand on the right side of history and to ensure that we fulfill our responsibility to make this world a better place.
Malala Yousafzai, welcome to Desert Island Discs.
Thank you so much for the opportunity and congratulations.
Belatedly, you graduate from Oxford University last year with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics. And I think if I'm right, you enjoyed studying philosophy most of all. What did you love about it?
For me, I think I am more attracted to words like virtue, ethics, and I think it's important to be virtuous. And sometimes, you know, virtues like kindness, generosity are taken for granted in small deeds, though, they're they're small. They look small, you know, just be kind of smiling at someone. They can have a real impact and they can actually bring joy and happiness to your life into the lives of others. So I am sort of more on that side, you know, tells you how to be then focusing more on how to act when you were younger and contemplating possible career paths, you did think you might become a politician.
Is that still what lies ahead for you, do you think? I wanted to join politics.
And I you know, when I was 11 years old, I said it straight away that I want to become the prime minister of Pakistan because I believe that that is something that could fix the country. It was quite simple for me then. I just realised that, you know, why why is it that you sit in a chair in the seat of responsibility? You are you have the responsibility to look after the whole country and you still don't do anything.
So for me, I was like, OK, nobody's listening to me right now. But one day when I become the prime minister, I'll fix everything. But what I have learned is things are quite complicated. And right now my focus is to work on girls education. And then, I don't know, I could consider politics, you know, 20 years or something. Yes, it's time for that. A long time lies ahead.
Yes, there is a tradition in Oxford that students get trashed at the end of their final exams, and that means being doused in food and champagne confetti. Now, because of coronavirus, you finished your exams at home in Birmingham, but anyone who follows you on social media will have seen that you were trashed. I wonder who did the honours, who trashed you also.
So actually, I asked my family to trash me and I ordered everything that was needed confetti shaving from glitter powder or all the different colours.
As I mentioned, you know, you've had the odd argument with your little brothers in your time. So this was their chance for payback, perhaps?
Oh, yeah. They were they were just cheeky in this as well. They were throwing their cheering for money. I was like, you know, you need to stop it now. But they were just not stopping. It was a great opportunity for them. Yeah.
So, Malala, we're going to hear the music that you've selected today, of course, starting with your first disc. Tell us, what are we going to hear? So I started listening to Sufi songs, which are mostly sung in the form of Kabali, I used to listen to these songs in university especially I you know, when you are sort of on your own, it's your first time that you have left your home.
You are not under the supervision of your family and you are learning what it means to be independent and you are learning more about yourself and which Sufi songs. It talks a lot about the connection to God, the connection to that being the connection to yourself. And these songs are very powerful. And you don't even need to understand the the words and you don't need to understand the poetry. There's just something about it that touches your soul.
I mean, I'm a bit of. Jugiong, Sodeto. Oh. Oh, no, honey. Oh, please.
Oh Runga Color by Robert Foody, Ali Alikhan and Amjad Sabri. Malala Yousafzai, you've been delivering your message about girls education for over a decade now.
And of course you are recognized around the world. Do you need to have a certain amount of separation between the public perception of you and who you are at home?
There is that other sort of Malala that is in the house and I am quite bossy in a way, in a positive way, in a very positive way.
A lecture on my brothers on the time do this to their don't do this, don't do that. They probably need it. Boys need a lot of lectures. So it is good, you know, it's going to help them in future.
One of the big problems that we're facing at the moment is, of course, the amount of disinformation that's out there. And people might be surprised to hear that there's there's a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there about you. How do you feel about that?
Initially when when this started and it started back in 2012, when the incident happened within I think a month or so, people started spreading this this misinformation that this attack was all planned or that, you know, blaming my father for it, or then soon this narrative started that this incident had never even happened. And it's all, you know, sort of a fake thing.
And it's so hard to process that because you are like like, you know, what do I say? And it also would look silly if you say, OK, you know, shall I show you the scars on my body or shall I show you the medical documents from the hospital? But we have reached a point where people would not even believe that in my real life, I have not met anyone who has been disrespectful to me or who has called me fake or anything.
So that is something that gives me hope. And I do hope that, you know, when they meet you in person, their views will change. But maybe I'm just a bit too optimistic in that.
Do you have to find time to have fun, to take a break and just be silly every now and again?
I wasn't having much fun for university, but when I went to university and when I connected to people of my age, friends of my age, that is when I realized that, OK, I am actually not that old. And I and I and I can still have those experiences of youth that I deserve that everybody else is having. So I started hanging out with friends. I started going to college bars, you know, music events and just spending time with friends.
It is just so hard to explain it. But when you are with your friends, you are just having one of your best times ever. So that childhood sort of has come back in me, and I'm really happy for that.
It's time for school music.
Malala, this is your second disc today. Tell us about it.
Why chosen it for? The second song is January eleven, Jena, where the waters meet by their song. She is a well-known folk singer of Pakistan. She comes from a very small village and music was banned during Taliban times. You would be stopped at the check posts that were created by the Taliban and they would stop your car and they will check for music cassettes, DVDs, CDs to ensure that you are not listening to music. So the special song is very close to my heart because this was something that was taken away from us at that time.
But I think that the. But. Shenae, very low hanging where the waters meet by Xanga and Malala Yousafzai. You were born in the town of Mingora in the SWAT Valley region of Pakistan, and it's in the northwest, very near the Afghanistan border. Yes. Sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Asia. How would you describe it?
It is one of the most beautiful places that I have seen in my life. It is a valley surrounded by these tall mountains. And there is peace there. Peace that you are just in this beautiful part of nature.
Your father was and is still a great inspiration to you. And in your Nobel lecture, you thanked him for not clipping my wings and letting me fly. Tell me a bit more about him.
I am lucky that I have an amazing feminist father and I say that he was a feminist before he even knew the word feminist, he was not just preaching about the equality of women. He was actually doing it. He ensured that I get my education, that I get treated the same way as my brothers get treated. And there were so many other young girls insightfully who wanted to speak out and who were speaking out initially. But they're their brothers and their fathers stop them from speaking out.
And what's different in my story is that my father did not stop me. It's as simple as that.
What made him different, do you think?
My father always shares the story that he had five sisters and there were two brothers, and he noticed the discrimination with his own two eyes when his parents would serve food to all the children. The boys will get the bigger piece of meat than the girls. The girls, you know, would not be prioritized. My grandfather, he educated Waterboys boys, but he did not send the goes to school. So for my father, you know, the question was like, why is it that just because he's a boy, he's getting all these privileges?
And he decided that, you know, when he will have his own daughters or daughter, he will make sure that they are not discriminated, that she gets equal amount of food and chicken and everything that she wants and that she is sent to school and that she gets her education for him. It was witnessing that gender discrimination with his own eyes that changed him.
And tell me about your mother, too. She's got less of a public profile than your father has used in the campaign or an activist like you. But she sounds like a very strong, very grounded person. How would you describe her?
She's a wise woman. And even though she did not get her education, she was only five or six years old. And she sold her books and she bought some candies in return. And she never went back to school. And nobody in her family even asked why was she not in school? Because it was never a priority for them. And then my father and my mother, you know, they their stories are quite cute right now because, you know, they didn't have to endure all these dating apps or anything and they couldn't even meet, you know, properly.
They couldn't go on a date or anything. My father would be in this field and my mom would be going on the road with her friends and he would sort of see her from a distance. And they were also like distant relatives as well. So my father, my mother would sometimes visit their house and they would just look at each other from a distance. That is sort of their love story. That's what they have told us. So diverted from the off.
Yes. You've described some different attitudes to the birth of girls and boys in Pashtun culture. When you were small, some of your relatives even sympathized with your mother, I think, for having a daughter and not a son. But your father had other ideas. How did he celebrate your arrival?
When I was born, my father's cousin, he had been working on our family tree. And when my father looked at it, it had the names of all the men who had been in our family going back, you know, to 300 or something years. But there was no name of a woman in there. It's not that we didn't have women in our family. Yes, we did. There were women. It's just their names are not on the family tree.
And my father, he took a pen and he wrote down my name. He was not accepting a society where women's names and their identities and their presence is erased.
Let's take a moment for some more music. This is desk number three. Tell us about this choice.
So this song is called Never Say Never by Justin Bieber. And I used to listen to these songs in Pakistan. And I was very new to pop culture, but it was trending at that time. So here's the song.
Never Say Never, Never, Never, never, never say I Never Thought. Don't want to fire. I never thought that I'd take the plunge. I never had the strength to get higher until I reached the point of no Justin Bieber and never say never.
Good to confirm that you are a believer.
On the program today, Malala. Thank you. So your father was a prominent activist in your district and he believed that boys and girls should be educated side by side and have equal access. He co-founded a school in SWAT Valley, which you attended. What kind of student were you?
I was I was a really good student. You know, when I look back, I'm like, Malala, you were doing great. You are an outstanding an excellent student. I was, you know, academically, I was doing well. I was participating in every core curriculum, extracurricular activity, you know, doing speeches and performing in any school event and going for anything. And my father's philosophy was that if you can run a good school and if you can give quality education to these children, if you can inspire them to become change makers, that way you will produce 10, 20 more doctors and then 20 engineers and and leaders and change makers for the society that we are living in.
From an early age, you were keen for your father to do more to help children, especially those growing up alongside you from poorer backgrounds. Who were you trying to persuade him to help back then? When I used to walk to school, I used to see many young girls who were not in school, they would be going to other people's houses for the domestic labor that they had to do. Many of them would be there on the garbage dumps and they would be collecting metal pieces from the garbage.
And I always had this question that, you know, why is it that I can go to school but they can't? I started to realize that, you know, this this is not the world we should be living in. If I can go to school, so should everybody else who's around me and I. I wanted to do this activism for all children then to go to school. It's time for some more music from you, Malala. This is a desk number for what does it mean to you and where would you usually listen to this?
So this is a song called Hamdi Kingi. We will see Bich by Bono and the poetry is written by FARE's. Ahmad says he is a well-known poet in Pakistan and he wrote this poetry during the time of Zia ul Haq, who was a military dictator, and he brought a military coup against the Ul-Haque was a political leader and this song was actually censored. And this brave woman, Iqbal Baynor, she goes to the stage in 1986 and she sings this song.
And the whole room are just in this sense of revolution.
Whenever I feel there is a bit of hopelessness in the mission that I'm fighting for or in the change that we all want to see. I listen to this song and that faith, that belief, that truth shall prevail. Truth, when it comes back in may not be the case. I'm big. Then get discovered by people. Then we get this Dakang guy we will see by Iqbal Barnow, Malala Yousafzai, in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and the US led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban were driven out of the country.
By 2008, they were established in SWAT Valley. You were 11 then. What do you remember about that time?
Basically, it was a life in fear. And the Taliban, they would enter into people's houses just because some, you know, they had spoken something or they were just a bit suspicious that these people were against them and they would, you know, kill those people. And, you know, there in the square, which was called the Green Square, and their bodies would be hanging there with a note saying that nobody can remove this body till 11am or 12:00 p.m. So they wanted people to even, you know, see that.
And if anybody remove their, you know, said that, you know, your body should be here, too. Yeah, it's very difficult to understand that ideology. You know, it's they literally misuse the name of Islam. Who did you think these people were? To be honest, I just did not know who they were. Even when I used when you are young, you have this belief that sort of there is magic and anything can happen and then you make a wish to God and then he will listen to you and, you know, the world will change.
And I used to believe in that. And I used to pray to God that he just fixes the world. And I was like, you know, don't harm these people. Like, I don't want them to be. I'm just sort of like make them disappear or just make them just better people and just remove all these guns and remove all these weapons from this world so we can all live in peace and everybody's safe and everybody can be smiling and, you know, walking on the roads and streets again and not be afraid.
When did you realize that your father's school was under threat? There were writings outside on the wall of the school that said that education is forbidden. And if any girls go, you know, go to the school, that you shall see the consequences. And my father closed the school on the 15th of January 2009 because that was the official deadline from the Taliban. It was very clear that if anybody kept their school open, their school would be bombed. And I remember, like, you know, waking up on on that day and just realizing that, you know, I could no longer go to school and like, what does that mean for me?
What does that mean for my future? It was a really sad day and I cried a lot. But soon, I think around February, the Taliban then agreed to allow girls still grateful because they're still great for the girls are sort of young enough and they have not reached that puberty sort of age in that age where they should be married. So they said we will allow a go. Still grateful. And I was in grade five and we started going to school secretly.
We did not go in school uniform. We used to wear our normal home clothes and we would hide our books under our scarves and we kept going to school even in that time.
By the time all this was happening, you had already started telling your own story, albeit anonymously. You were writing a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym.
Was it a case of you were more scared about what would happen if you didn't speak out than what might happen if you did 100 percent?
For me, the fear was living in that situation forever. For my whole life. I don't know. You just feel this strength within you. Even though you're tiny and I'm still tiny, I'm like five foot. I have not grown an inch two in your heels, I think. Yes, I should include that. But I just had this belief that if you are on the right path, if you are speaking the truth and if you are speaking out for justice, there is something there are these invisible guards around you.
There are these angels protecting you. You know, there is just this power within truth. So I believe that, you know, somehow that we will be safe and we will be fine and that we will win in the end.
Malala, let's take a moment for some more music. This is desk number five. Why you chosen this one. When I moved to the UK, I was very new to this culture and I was trying to find what I liked and disliked in the music and the art here, and I realized that I really like musicals. So I watch The Phantom of the Opera so many times, and I loved each and every song in this. So it was really hard to pick one.
But I chose all I ask of you not.
But let's try your time with you beside. To to you to hide. Three. All I ask for you from The Phantom of the Opera, composed by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Heart and performed by Sarah Brightman and Steve Barton with the original London cast. So Malala Yousufzai, October the 9th, 2012, was the day that made headlines around the world. It was when what you call the incident happened. What do you remember about that afternoon?
I remember sitting in the school bus talking to my friends, just just walking to the bus driver, and he was doing some, like, magic tricks with the people just hiding it. It was appearing and disappearing. US is really fascinated by that. I love magic tricks. And, you know, then it started driving and I just I don't remember anything. And then I wake up in a hospital in Birmingham.
So you don't have any memory of the incident itself. What did your friends tell you?
So I asked my best friend. Her name is Moniba. And she said that a man, the a friend, probably a young man, had stopped the school bus and he was talking to the driver. And then one guy sort of came to the back of the bus and he asked, who is Malala?
And everybody was just scared. Some of the girls were covering their faces. Some were not. I was not covering my face. And I was like, when you were like, what was I doing? Did I say anything? And she said, no, you were just staring at the person and you were you squeezed my hand so tightly that I could feel the pain for days and that, you know, suddenly bullets were fired and you fell in my lap.
Your injuries were so severe that a few days after the shooting, you were airlifted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and that specializes in treating injured military personnel. You were in a medically induced coma for a week. What do you remember about coming round?
I remember opening my eyes and I was trying to process whether I was alive or I was still sort of in their dream, when you are not really dead and you are trying to get out, but you can't. And I was grateful when I realized I was alive. I just cannot explain just just the thankfulness that I had in my heart. And I was worried about my father. So that was literally the first question in my in my mind, where is my father?
Because the images that had formed in my brain was telling me a different story, saying, you know, that my father was attacked as well. And initially I could not talk because I had a tube in my neck for breathing. So whatever I wanted to say, I had to write it on a piece of paper. What did you write? Whichever doctor entered the room, you know, I would write to them, where is my father? And I remember I you know, I called one of the nurses, like, I have to call my dad.
There's something important I have to tell him before he comes here. And I called him and asked him to ring my physics books because I was worried that I might be a bit behind in my physics provision for, you know, my exams in Pakistan. I did not know that the journey and the time that I would be spending in the UK would be longer than that.
Let's take a moment for some more music. This is your sixth selection today. Why have you chosen it?
This song is called Category, which means Dark, Dark, and it is by Curatola in Baloji. The song is in Urdu and it is from a movie called Pink, a Bollywood movie that touches the issue of women's rights and just the stereotype and just the stigma that's been attached to speaking out about these issues and what women have to suffer that, you know, they have to make so many compromises in their life and oftentimes they are not given justice when it comes to their physical safety, got recorded in society.
So they take you lie. You lie. Parachini, give me a very secure line. I. Uji, audiocassette. UNGUARDED just. George Curry Curry Dark, Dark from the soundtrack to the film Pink, performed by Kurupt, Ulen Bullock, Malala Yousafzai, aside from the physical scars left behind by the attack on you. Of course, there was also the huge emotional trauma. How did you begin to process what you'd been through?
To be honest, initially I was I was very strong. I realize that this was a second life for me and this was given to me for a reason and for me, like I just did not think too much about the attack. And I'm grateful that I don't remember the incident. So when people used to, you know, talk about the story of Malala, I sometimes just could not connect to it. I was like, are they talking about sort of exactly who this person is right now or is she somebody else?
I know that you've settled into to life in Birmingham now, and obviously that must have been a challenge for the whole family. How did how long did it take everyone to adjust?
Firstly, we had to understand the accent. I hear that he didn't. Brilliant Brummie accent You know, I'm going to use it to demonstrate. Right.
So when I gave the speech at the at the U.N., I said, Malala Day is not my day. It's the day of every girl. So then I started practicing it in my Brummie accent. Like, Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every girl I like. Sunday one day. How are you? Yeah. So I love this accent.
You said not too long ago that you can have more than one home, do you?
Birmingham has become a second home, but SWAT Valley, Pakistan, that is always my first home and that's still in our hearts. And there is a sense of attachment to the land, to the soil. And when you put your feet on this on this, you know, different piece of land, you just feel like you belong to it. I hope to go back to Pakistan soon to see my home again.
And given all that you've been through, do you feel safe today? I have seen worse scenarios than this and I have seen the time when, you know, we were in clear danger, there were people walking around in the streets and you could hear their footsteps and you knew that they could just get into your house and target you. So when you see sort of so much and you are still alive and you are still fighting for the cause that you believe in, and you realize that, you know, if it has to happen, then it will.
But right now, just keep going and keep doing what you want to do. Time for summer music.
I think. Malala, what are we going to hear next and why have you chosen it?
So the next song is Love Always Comes as a Surprise. And it is from Madagascar three. I am a big, big fan of animation and their songs, their messages are always so important, so I'm sure everybody else will like it.
Love always comes as a surprise. You don't need to close your eyes because soon you'll recognize it's. Life, well, it always has a twist, something new that can't be missed and, you know, I can't resist this.
The love always comes as a surprise from the soundtrack to the film Madagascar Three performed by Peter Ashar. Everybody else did love it, I'm sure. How could you not? Malala Yousafzai.
So, Malala, you're known. And of course, we know you well as a passionate, brave campaigner who can command a world stage. But as you said earlier, there is another side to you. What do you do when you need to take a break?
So, you know, I spent time with my friends, and especially in this pandemic, I have been on, you know, the house party, we should say house parties are out to kind of group chat up, right?
Yes. But I also watch, like, the old British sitcoms as well, Blackadder Fools and Horses. Yes, Minister. And I am just a big fan of British sitcoms. I always watch those shows.
The idea of you sitting down watching Blackadder is just bringing me so much joy.
When are you happiest? Do you think? So many moments. So many when I'm, you know, with my family, when we are just, you know, sharing a joke or something. Those are moments of joy and happiness. And you should always, you know, value them when I'm when I'm watching a cricket match between India and Pakistan and Pakistan, when I am really, really happy.
And of course, I'm about to cast you away to our desert island. How do you imagine life there?
I think it would be good. I expect really nice weather there. I hope it would not be, you know, too cold, too hot, you know, listening to these beautiful songs that would be reminding me of my moments of happiness, joy, feeling this all within me and just just being grateful for everything in this thinking to life. What is life? Why are we here? And yeah. Enjoying my time, I hope.
Well, before we send you there, we're going to hear your final disc. And I know it's got a very special resonance for you because it was performed at your Nobel Prize ceremony.
Yes. So this song is called BBC Arena A Brave Girl, and it is sung by Santarelli Taxco. And this is a song that talks to young girls, especially Pashtun girls. That is my community. And this song says that, you know, education is your right and you should be able to achieve any dream that you have.
Me to go to let me know a little bit. It's gonna be featured in my the books cannot be officially denied. Modi commitment must mean I will help the people denying them. Who's got the deep inside that issue?
Reena A Brave Girl by Sardar Ali Takar. It's time to send you away to the island. Malala, I am giving you the books to take with you the Koran and the complete works of Shakespeare. You can also take a choice of your own. What would you like?
So I'll take Plato's complete works. I studied People's Republic in my university and since then I have become a big fan of Plato's. Take all of his books with me. What about a luxury item to make your stay on the island more enjoyable?
I cannot survive without Alabam, so I'm going to take my lip balm, which is a slightly coloured sort of lip balm. So it gives that beautiful colour to your lips and I will be very happy with that forever. We will send you an inexhaustible supply of lip balm with you. Thank you so much. And finally, if you had to, which one track of the eight that you shared with us today, would you save from the waves?
Hmm. I think I will go with someday.
We will see by Byliner, Malala Yousafzai, thank you very much for letting us hear your Desert Island Discs. Thank you so much.
I just loved it and enjoyed it. Thank you.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Malala, and while I'd love it if she could find some of the answers to life's big questions while she's on the island, I also hope she enjoys some time in the sunshine. Over the years, we've cast many activists away, including Naomi Klein, Gloria Steinem, Serkan Roger Shehada, Anishinaabe Burke. You can hear their programs on the Desert Island Discs website and BBC sounds. Next time, my guest will be Sophia Loren.
Hello, I'm Greg Janah, the host of the You're Dead to Me podcast.
And I have some good news now that we're all stuck at home again. We are bringing back home school history. And if you missed out the first time, he didn't know what it is. It's our fun, family friendly and informative show about, well, you can probably guess.
Yeah. History. And yes, we're bringing back the obligatory sound effects.
Of course, this time out, get ready to learn about the great fire of London, ancient Egyptian religion, these Scottish Wars of independence, Mary CECO and one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that you'll have to tune in to find out which one. So that's home school history with me, Greg Jenna on BBC Sounds.