An interview with her former collaborator Abdul Hai Kakar
A photograph of Yousufzai on display among lighted candles in Lahore, Pakistan (Mohsin Raza/Reuters)
As Malala Yousafzai clings to life following a gun attack by the Pakistani Taliban, people around the globe are paying homage to the 14-year-old's bravery in defending her and others' right to an education. One is Abdul Hai Kakar, a former BBC Urdu Service reporter and current Radio Mashaal broadcaster who helped bring Malala's message to the world's attention. I spoke with him recently.
When did you first meet Malala?
In 2008, the Taliban took control of the northwest Pakistan Swat Valley. They imposed a ban on girls' education. I was working for the BBC and floated an idea that I would like to start a diary from Swat that would be genuine, I mean from a Swat girl. [I wanted] to give a human touch and first-hand eyewitness account of the conflict, which was a very humanitarian conflict. Malala Yousafzai's father was my friend and he was running a school in the Swat Valley. I talked to him because [I was hoping] he could find a schoolgirl for me. He tried for days and called me back and said nobody was ready to talk because everyone was afraid of the Taliban. But he hesitantly told [me] that if I agreed, then his daughter could work with me. Then I contacted her and started the diary.
How much risk was Malala taking in writing the online diary for BBC, a project she began at the age of 11? What measures were taken to ensure her safety?
Anybody in Pakistan who speaks against the Pakistani Army and the Pakistani Taliban [is a target because] there is a jihadist paradigm, jihadist mindset, and jihadist narrative. Anybody in Pakistan who is countering this narrative is a target. I thought [Malala] would be like that because she was giving us first-hand information, her perspective, and she was representing Swat. That would [pose] a problem both from the Taliban and the army. There was an impression that the Taliban and Pakistani army were and are the same faces of one coin. Then we decided that her [pseudonym] name should be Gul Makki. Gul Makki in our folk stories is a heroine. I wanted to give an indigenous, symbolic attachment to Swat and so that the people could own it journalistically.
You have said Malala was very close to you and your family. What is she like?
[There] were two or three things I liked about her. She was very confident. Whenever she was talking she wasn't shy. She belongs to a tribal area, so, in our region it's difficult for the child to talk to their elders. They're shy, but she was not. The second thing was she had a very good political understanding of her area. She was influenced by her father, obviously, because he was a political activist and he was trying to talk to her to tell her the environment. So she had good knowledge of the area and she was trained by her father how to talk to the media. Thirdly, she was a very keen observer. When she was writing her diary, it was like the voice of Swat Valley. Everybody I met would say, "Wow, this is a very nice diary." And what we have seen in the content is all true.
What was your role in the writing process and publication of her diary?
I talked to her and told her, "You can tell me on [the] telephone what you did that day, what you thought, what were your feelings, and what you saw." So [I told her] just share with me and I will take notes and then I will write it down. So, from my wife's telephone number I would call [Malala] because her [my wife's] phone was safe. So we used to talk to each other for 30 minutes each night for five or seven days [in a row]. Then after that I would send it to BBC English and Urdu to publish.
How important was it to publish Malala's diary? What kind of effect did it have in Pakistan?
So when people saw [Malala's diary], it was appealing for them journalistically and also for the international media. I mean, the Pakistani media was not highlighting the humanitarian issues but trying to show the world that it was only a security problem. But this diary gave a humanitarian face to the tragedy. All the international media was lifting this story.
What kind of effect has the attack on Malala had in Pakistan? Has it led to greater condemnation of the Taliban or the Pakistani Army, which many Pakistanis believe supports militant groups?
This [diary encouraged] ... people to hate the Taliban and they unanimously condemned them. All the people are with Malala -- I would say 180 million people [Pakistan's population] are with Malala. So, it [highlights] what she meant for the people. She was a kind of a celebrity for them and they have an attachment with her. She is symbolizing the rights for [girls'] education. She shook the entire country and [only] now the people are debating and talking about how to fix the Taliban, army, and jihadist mindset and the militants.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
After getting shut down late last year, a website that allows free access to paywalled academic papers has sprung back up in a shadowy corner of the Internet.
There’s a battle raging over whether academic research should be free, and it’s overflowing into the dark web.
Most modern scholarly work remains locked behind paywalls, and unless your computer is on the network of a university with an expensive subscription, you have to pay a fee, often around 30 dollars, to access each paper.
Many scholars say this system makes publishers rich—Elsevier, a company that controls access to more than 2,000 journals, has a market capitalization about equal to that of Delta Airlines—but does not benefit the academics that conducted the research, or the public at large. Others worry that free academic journals would have a hard time upholding the rigorous standards and peer reviews that the most prestigious paid journals are famous for.
For decades, some psychologists have claimed that bilinguals have better mental control. Their work is now being called into question.
In one of his sketches, comedian Eddie Izzard talks about how English speakers see bilingualism: “Two languages in one head? No one can live at that speed! Good lord, man. You’re asking the impossible,” he says. This satirical view used to be a serious one. People believed that if children grew up with two languages rattling around their heads, they would become so confused that their “intellectual and spiritual growth would not thereby be doubled, but halved,” wrote one professor in 1890. “The use of a foreign language in the home is one of the chief factors in producing mental retardation,” said another in 1926.
A century on, things are very different. Since the 1960s, several studies have shown that bilingualism leads to many advantages, beyond the obvious social benefits of being able to speak to more people. It also supposedly improves executive function—a catch-all term for advanced mental abilities that allow us to control our thoughts and behavior, such as focusing on a goal, ignoring distractions, switching attention, and planning for the future.
The ancient civilization may have tracked Jupiter using sophisticated methods, but their reasons for stargazing were very different than ours.
We’ve never escaped the influence of the Babylonians. That there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 degrees in a full circle, are all echoes of the Babylonian preference for counting in base 60. An affinity for base 12 (inches in a foot, pence in an old British shilling) is also an offshoot, 12 being a factor of 60.
All this suggests that the Babylonians had a mathematics worth copying, which was why the Greeks did copy it and thereby rooted these number systems in Western tradition. The latest indication of Babylonian mathematical sophistication is the discovery that their astronomers knew that, in effect, the distance traveled by a moving object is equal to the area under the graph of velocity plotted against time. Previously it had been thought that this relationship wasn’t recognized until the fourteenth century in Europe. But since historian Mathieu Ossendrijver of the Humboldt University in Berlin found the calculation described in a series of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing in Babylonia during the fourth to the first centuries B.C.E., where it was used to figure out the distance traveled across the sky by the planet Jupiter.
After a pair of poor showings in New Hampshire, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina drop out of the race.
The Republican race is headed to South Carolina with two fewer candidates. The day after finishing sixth and seventh in the New Hampshire primaries, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced on Wednesday that they were suspending their campaigns.
Fiorina was always a long shot—she was practically a political newcomer, having only run one unsuccessful Senate campaign. And while her record at HP was vulnerable to attack, Republican figures saw in her both private-sector experience and a woman who could counter Hillary Clinton’s monopoly on a “historic” woman’s candidacy. While many political professionals sniffed at Fiorina’s candidacy, remembering that 2010 Senate race, she broke out after a commanding performance in the undercard to the first Republican debate. That earned her a promotion to the main stage at the next debate, where she scored another victory. But it was all downhill from there. Dogged by questions of honesty and unable to earn media attention, her campaign faded quickly.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Issued last summer, the rules are the centerpiece of the White House’s climate-change-fighting agenda, and they play a big part in the recent, tepid optimism about global warming. Without the proposal of the plan, the United States couldn’t have secured the Paris Agreement, the first international treaty to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, last December. And without the adoption of the plan, the United States almost certainly won’t be able to comply with that document. If the world were to lose the Paris Agreement—which was not a total solution to the climate crisis, but meant to be a first, provisional step—years could be lost in the diplomatic fight to reduce climate-change’s dangers.
The Warriors star is the embodiment of basketball’s analytics revolution.
The Golden State Warriors are now some 15 months in to their turn as one of the best teams in basketball history. Last season, they won 67 games, the most in the NBA in eight years, and secured a championship in June against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season’s Warriors make last season’s Warriors look like a team that hadn’t yet gotten loose. They started the year winning their first 24 games in a row, a record opening, and as of now have won 46 of 50.
Golden State’s brilliance is more than just statistical. The Warriors are a basketball idyll, a paradise of skill and collaboration. Their offense runs on nifty ballhandling, willing passing, and sublime shooting, with their point guard and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player acting as ringleader. A slim 6’3” and 185 pounds, with a bouncy jog and a barely post-pubescent tuft of beard at his chin, Stephen Curry dribbles with the intentional abandon of a card hustler, flings one-handed passes to all sectors of the court, and shoots better than anyone ever has.
This morning I went on Democracy Now to discuss my critique of “class-first” policy as a way of ameliorating the effects of racism. In the midst of that discussion I made the point that one can maintain a critique of a candidate—in this case Bernie Sanders—and still feel that that candidate is deserving of your vote. Amy Goodman, being an excellent journalist, did exactly what she should have done—she asked if I were going to vote for Senator Sanders.
I, with some trepidation, answered in the affirmative. I did so because I’ve spent my career trying to get people to answer uncomfortable questions. Indeed, the entire reason I was on the show was to try to push liberals into directly addressing an uncomfortable issue that threatens their coalition. It seemed wrong, somehow, to ask others to step into their uncomfortable space and not do so myself. So I answered.
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.