Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner who came to international prominence after she, along with two other women, survived an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman in retaliation for her human rights activism, called out President Donald Trump on his Muslim ban during an interview with David Letterman.
The interview, which will air tomorrow as the third episode of Letterman's new Netflix talk show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, has already begun to make waves for Yousafzai's blunt, precise language. For her, the president's animosity is personal.
“What do you think about President Trump?” Letterman asked her.
“Well, I’m in the UK, so what do you think about him?” she asked, turning the question around.
“I have many things to say on this topic. And you want me to be candid, right?” Letterman said. He continued: “I believe… oh, boy. I feel personally, not politically, but personally, he is not fit to represent me. I don’t think he’s fit to represent anyone in this room.”
Yousafzai then used Letterman's response as a segue into her own grievances, voicing particular disapproval for Trump's proposal to bar all Muslim immigrants from entering the country:
I know, a ban on Muslims! And I’m a Muslim. Some of the things have really disappointed me, things about sexual harassment and a ban on Muslims and racism. You see all these things and you feel that America, being known for human rights and a country of liberty and freedom, that country should be leading in terms of human rights.
Letterman countered that the United States likes to think of itself as “the greatest country in the world,” but yielded that, for that to be true, “You have to lead in all of these areas that are now being sullied. And you’ve got the car in reverse if you’re doing that.”
Yousafzai has criticized Trump's ban, which restricts travel from several Muslim-majority nations, before.
“I am heartbroken that today President Trump is closing the door on children, mothers and fathers fleeing violence and war,” she said in January 2017, through her nonprofit organization, the Malala Fund, as the president's announcement sent shockwaves around the globe. “I am heartbroken that America is turning its back on a proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants — the people who helped build your country, ready to work hard in exchange for a fair chance at a new life.”
In October 2017, the president imposed new limits on travel to the United States, keeping restrictions on five of the six countries from his original travel ban––Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen––while lifting restrictions on visitors from the Sudan and permanently barring visitors and immigrants from Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela. The president cited threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country. Yousafzai has continued to advocate on behalf of the countless people affected by the president's proposal.
Yousafzai has expressed further criticisms of the president, most recently on stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where she cited her concerns on the state of gender equality in today’s world.
When asked what her message to “someone like Trump” would be, Yousafzai said she was “so disappointed to see that people in high positions talk about women in unequal terms and do not accept them as equals.”
When asked about Trump’s record on women’s rights and the numerous allegations of harassment and assault that have been leveled against him, she was firm, observing that "it is just shocking for a second to believe that this is actually happening. . . . I hope that women stand up and speak out against it.”
The new episode of Letterman's talk show includes a moment when he joins Yousafzai at Oxford, where she is currently studying.
"Would you ever want to hold a political position?” Letterman asks Yousafzai, who is majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.
“Me? No,” Yousafzai said. "We have lost a leader," she said of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. “She’s an inspiration and she told women, not just in Pakistan, but around the world that they can be leaders.”
When asked if there would ever again be a female leader of a Muslim nation, she said, "I think definitely. Very soon. I hope so."
But, she told Letterman, the absence of female leadership is not unique to Muslim countries alone. “Not just Muslim countries, I think for all countries, even in the U.S., you still don’t have a woman president," she said.
Things took a significantly more somber turn when Letterman asked Yousafzai about her life since the attack which nearly claimed her life and transformed her advocacy into an international movement. Yousafzai was 15 at the time of the attack, and is now 20.
“To me, things like this don’t happen by luck, there’s a purpose here,” Letterman told her. “Do you feel that way?”
“I think there might be, but even if there isn’t, you yourself can make a decision," Yousafzai responded. "And when I woke up and realized I had survived such a brutal attack, and I saw death so close, I realized that maybe this life is for a purpose. And I decided I’ll give this life to girls’ education and speak out for them. And give it a purpose. Because we have to die one day, so why don’t we do good and do as much as we can to help others?”
The interview will air tomorrow. This sneak peek comes just in time for International Women's Day.