“In the area where I live there are some people who want to stop educating girls through guns,” says Ziauddin, after 200 girls schools have been forced to close down in the Swat valley, Pakistan, over last year.
This is the theme of a moving online video by The New York Times' Adam Ellick and Irfan Ashraf, "Class Dismissed: Education in Swat Valley" [alternately subtitled "The Death of Female Education"]. SAJAforum interviewed Ellick about the making of the video.
The 14-minute story takes us through the region while narrating the story of Ziauddin, who runs a private school for girls, and his bright 11-year old daughter Malala, who is pursuing the seemingly futile goal of becoming a doctor.
The documentary opens with serene shots of the valley and, just as sounds of civilized society begin to filter in, gunmen open fire, bombs blast and insurgents take control. Images of burning houses, torn-down classrooms and deserted markets follow, as well as some gruesome scenes of Taliban-style justice. From the narration:
Last week the government signed a truce with the Swat Taliban agreeing on a form of Islamic law. Some people now fear that the Taliban are even more emboldened.
While boys school remain open, more than 200 girls schools have been blown up by the Taliban.
There are 12,000 Pakistani troops in Swat. But since last summer, they have been unable to quell the 3,000 Taliban fighters and their guerrilla insurgency.
Perhaps the stars of the documentary are young Malala and the other girls in the valley who bravely make the case for female education, even giving stirring speeches, in English, out in the open:
"Swat Valley: the land of waterfalls. Lush green hills and other gifts bestowed upon it by the nature. But my dear friends, today, Swat, has in the past few years become a heartland for Pakistan Islamic militancy. Today, this idyllic valley of peace is burning. Why the peace of this valley is destroyed? <snip> Why our future is targeted? Schools are not places of learning but places of fear and violence. <snip> Our dreams are shattered. And let me say, we are destroyed."
SAJAforum spoke to Ellick about getting permissions, his general mobility as a foreign journalist and whether he was in fact endangering his subjects by interviewing them. Above are two images of Adam. One of him in New York and the other of him incognito in Pakistan. Apparently, his cover worked well: people spoke to him in Pashtu, the local language, and thought he was a local.