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My conversations with Malala Yousafzai, the girl who stood up to the Taliban (+video)

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"They stopped our school van. They were riding on a bike. The masked man kept pointing guns at us and the other was shouting ‘where is Malala?!’ I froze with a flashback to the old dark days: I remembered the headless bodies, slaughtering of rivals – merely on dissent or slightest doubt of spying –the grotesque violence."

Just a few moments before, she said, the girls had been singing a traditional Pashtun folk song on their way back from school, its lyrics professing to sacrifice life for motherland, the beautiful valley of Swat.

"With a drop of my sweetheart's blood, Shed to defend the motherland, I will put a beauty spot on my forehead, Such would put to shame the rose in the garden," they sang. The song was made famous by Malala’s namesake, Malalai of Maiwand. The 19th century national folk hero fought against the British troops in the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

What's in a name?

The first time I met Malala, a couple of years ago, I asked her what her name signified. She answered: "Probably, a hero like the Afghan heroine Malalai [of Maiwand] or Malalai Joya. I want to be a social activist and an honest politician like her," she said, smiling. Ms. Joya, a 30-something activist, politician, and writer who was bitterly critical of both the Taliban and the Karzai regime, was at one point dubbed the bravest woman of Afghanistan

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