Rethinking Malala’s UN visit

Published: July 25, 2013

The writer is a development consultant and a PhD student at the University of Melbourne syed.ali@tribune.com.pk

The recent speech given by Malala at the UN youth assembly has provoked opposing feelings, which reflect a disturbingly sharp divide in our society.

Malala’s supporters are proud of her bravery, her defiance of the Taliban, and they are impressed by her message of forgiveness, as well as the enormous reception she has got at the UN.

On the other hand, are the numerous denouncements of Malala. Many of those critical of Malala are not unlettered people given that much of this criticism has appeared on social media. Soon after Malala’s UN speech, a plethora of comments began appearing on Twitter and Facebook, calling her an American or a CIA agent. Others blamed the CIA for attacking her, or claimed that her wounds had been faked to tarnish the image of Pakistan. A Taliban leader has subsequently written Malala a letter claiming that the attack on her was provoked by her attempts to malign the Taliban and their cause, rather than her desire to get an education. The letter also suggested that Malala should return home and enrol in a madrassa.

This ongoing controversy surrounding Malala has been noticed abroad as well. For instance, a recent article in Time Magazine claims that there was widespread sympathy for Malala after she was shot, but since then, the mood has turned darker. The article cites a public opinion survey by the Washington-based International Republican Institute which found that a majority of Pakistanis do not blame the Taliban for the attack on Malala. It goes on to assert that conspiracy theories are rife in Pakistan, which are, in turn, blamed on years of dictatorship and suppression of press freedoms. While the article mentions the Raymond Davis incident and drone attacks lending some substance to conspiracy theories and anti-American feelings, it asserts that Pakistanis find it easier to cast blame on external factors and concludes that a major reason that Malala has been spurned as a local hero is her acceptance by the West.

Unfortunately, our own behaviour helps fuel the negative stereotypes about Pakistan abroad. While the UN was marking ‘Malala Day’, the Pakistani government didn’t do much to register the occasion. While some politicians praised her informally, others like the chief minister of Punjab considered her speech somewhat unconvincing by commenting that it was written for global consumption and tried to please everyone.

However, the fact that Malala referred to Buddha, Gandhi, Mandela, Badshah Khan and Mother Teresa was indeed appropriate given that she was speaking at a global forum. Claims that Malala is a secret agent of some sort, or she has defamed Pakistan to get a British passport (Mukhtaran Mai had also faced a similar accusation) are preposterous as well.

If there was anything unsettling about this entire event, it was seeing the UN’s blatant attempt to showcase and parade Malala in the effort to raise its own credibility. Seeing the UN endorsement of Malala’s heroism does seem a bit cringe-worthy given the impotency of the UN in challenging the US invasion of Iraq without a Security Council resolution, or doing much about the ensuing havoc unleashed in Muslim countries around the world since 9/11. Seeing Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of a country with a shameful colonial past, as the Special Envoy for Youth, benevolently praising Malala for her bravery, did not make one feel any better.

It was, however, great to see her back a petition calling for urgent global action to ensure the right of every child to safely attend school and to hear of her plans to devote her life for the education of girls. I am not sure who helped young Malala with her speech, but they could certainly have been a bit more reflexive. Instead of making her sound profusely grateful to the UN for supporting her, it would have been wise to also point out some of the broader global discords which compound problems confronted by ordinary citizens in countries like Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • hussain
    Jul 26, 2013 - 3:45AM
  • Average Indian
    Jul 26, 2013 - 4:20AM

    ” it would have been wise to also point out some of the broader global discords which compound problems confronted by ordinary citizens in countries like Pakistan”

    Yes it is the fault of a teenage girl who was shot in the head that people in Pakistan can not manage their own affairs and that she has to go around the world telling everyone that Pakistan is exploding because of US,UK, India, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan basically everyoneRecommend

  • RAW is WAR
    Jul 26, 2013 - 7:05AM

    Malala aside, I find it very disturbing that a lot of educated Muslim women support Sharia/ Islamist ideology which is very harmful for them.

    One of the most ridiculous reason for wearing burqa from Muslim women from Australia- she wears it because the wives of Mohammed wore it. Not because she feels threatened by Australian men or something like that.

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  • F
    Jul 26, 2013 - 8:21AM

    A false and unsettling comparison: UN not opposing the Iraq invasion but supporting Malala for asserting her right to an education! How screwed up a logic is this?

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  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Jul 26, 2013 - 8:30AM

    That little girl of 16 years old stood there on that podium and said things that most of us grown up could not do. I am from Mardan and she made me very proud because she stood tall and the kids are talking about her around the US. Those delegates who were gathered there from all over the US are discussing and showing the same speech in their schools, she seems to be a role model for lot of those kids but not for the grown ups in Pakistan. To be honest, we did not pay any attention to Gordon Brown, it was her that every one of us wanted to see and hear and she did a splendid job. Of all the bad mouthing goes around about Pakistan in the US, but she was the one that people admired and said good things.BB was another one who spoke eloquently and people listened to her around the world but in some parts of Pakistan or some of it’s institutions she was considered an agent of the West. Pakistanis are not very happy people, are they.

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  • Arindom
    Jul 26, 2013 - 9:14AM

    why are you insinuating Malala didnot write her own speech? Even Obama has speech writers – it is understood – so was it necessary to really bring it up?

    Besides, you also betray more than a hint of jealousy!!

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  • pashtun
    Jul 26, 2013 - 10:07AM

    the analysis is not a clear one…if ur own leaders are not sincere with country’s progress and to give the people rights, what a UN or Malala could do for u. UN is a platform not a body (like state) and Malala rightly and beautifully represented Pakistan and sent strong message to those who are fighting against Pakistan..th virus in our brain would perhaps take more time to be removed..

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  • Leela
    Jul 26, 2013 - 10:50AM

    So the people should from now on not support the UN. Wait, aren’t Pakistanis the ones that are brain washed to keep harping about UN and Kasmir, without realizing the full content on a non binding UN resolution?

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  • Zara
    Jul 26, 2013 - 10:59AM

    Stupid article. Writer had no point. Irrelvant comparisons. Reflective of a foolish society.

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  • Sami
    Jul 26, 2013 - 2:02PM

    She is a CIA “Asset” not a “Agent” … Huge difference !!… Her father is the Agent !

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  • Meera Ghani
    Jul 26, 2013 - 4:00PM

    UGH more of the same, burdening a 16 yrs old with the responsibility to deliver a “perfect” speech. First you praise the child a litte in your opening sentences and then carry on doing the same you criticise others for. Lets see all those writing how hers wasnt “broad” enough or too was in too much praise of the UN deliver a speech when invited to such a big platform that is meant to represent all nations (however flawed their policies or ineffective they may be as an institution). As if that’s her responsibilty or role. She was there ONLY to talk about education. Even your leaders dont touch up the “broader” issues, yet everyone expects it of Malala.

    Please stop focusing on the child, if you cant be supportive of her cause, then leave her alone. She’s just a child trying to do whatever she can for a cause she believes in. If others are trying to use her for their own agendas thats not her fault.

    Heartening to see some of the more sensible and supportive comments.

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  • Mullah Barabar
    Jul 26, 2013 - 4:27PM

    Why Masala not wear burkha when giving Gordon Brown’s speech in front of all the mards in UN?

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  • unbelievable
    Jul 26, 2013 - 6:30PM

    If there was anything unsettling about this entire event, it was seeing the UN’s blatant attempt to showcase and parade Malala in the effort to raise its own credibility.
    .
    Great example of Pakistan conspiracy theory.

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  • kaalchakra
    Jul 27, 2013 - 3:31AM

    Very well said. I am surprised that nobody else noticed the subtext of all this malala hungama carefully orchestrated by the UN. The poor girl was being put on display under neon lights as ‘this strange Muslim girl’ who survived a barbaric place while all other girls of her age are dead. This was the worst possible example of racism, anti-Islamic bigotry, and greed combined against people of Pakistan.

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  • Nejla
    Jul 30, 2013 - 3:27PM

    Malala had a horrific incident happen to her,as is the case with many girls in this troubled region(including the ones in the van with her on that dark day)! UN is good at putting on a good show and that’s just what they did on ‘Malala day’, no ripple effect will come of it, after all the UN isn’t even taken seriously by one of its biggest members,can you guess which one…….

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