The Malala moment

Published: October 12, 2013

Malala personifies the leaps of faith needed, and the valour possible, to chart a way out of the fog of war we find ourselves in. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

KARACHI: She didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s totally ok. The award nomination is a milestone among many.

Malala Yousafzai, 16, is still proud and hopeful that she will move bigger mountains. So is mainstream Pakistan.

Without going into who got the coveted prize and why, we congratulate the OPCW for the important work they do, and set our gaze to the future.

I say mainstream Pakistan, because in my experience, this is the baseline that wants brave young women like Malala to give them hope and courage to face the rising tide of intolerance, extremism and militancy they face in the business of their daily lives. She represents that glittering core of unyielding resilience which has become the backbone of every citizen’s daily challenge in going to school, office or the marketplace in contemporary Pakistan.

So, before anything, let’s take pause to celebrate the fact that in the face of death-defying odds, Pakistan has produced a young woman who is remarkable to the world.

Yes, she is in danger of being over-packaged and objectified, but so what? At this level of global stardom, some PR-cum-development-world machinery has got to grind its mills. That’s not the point. Yes, there are hundreds of brave young Pakistanis being egged on to ask why their own trauma didn’t propel them to fame, but that’s not the point either. At all.

The point is Pakistan should please be allowed to revel in the fact that Malala has now become an icon of global championship for a girl’s right to an education, pointing us to the path of opportunity over despair. The point is that in this confusion and carping typical of our national psyche, let’s not forget that she is indeed a hero. She is a hero because in her person, she encapsulates so many debates, challenges and crises. She also personifies the leaps of faith needed, and the valour possible, to chart a way out of the fog of war we find ourselves in.

Most of us were silently, or openly, rooting for her victory. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis waited for the announcement from Norway, as did many others the world over. Television channels telescoped the breathless mix of pride and hope with which little girls in Mingora looked to Oslo, as did traders from Gujrat, fishermen from Pasni, fruit farmers in Gilgit, and homemakers from Karachi.

But there is another Pakistan that is rubbishing the nomination in two broad stripes.

One is the rightist that conflates Islam with the worst excesses of millenarian militancy and misogyny, demonising Malala as a handmaiden of satanic coalitions. This protagonist is no longer a marginal voice, lurking in the shadowed, layered protections of guns, cash and sweaty muscle. This is the barbarian now at our gates. This is the extremist who spews hate on the internet, manufacturing cyber shrouds on women’s bodies, which they fetishize. This is the militant who threatens people at mosques if they question sermons that valourize violence, in the name of religion that privileges peace above all. This is the terrorist that bears arms with the intent to kill, maim, kidnap and steal. They all hate Malala for fighting back, and what she stands for.

There is another, much more sophisticated derider of Malala.

This is the postmodern leftist, who hand-wrings at the poor young girl’s commodification by the ‘west’. Mostly, this is not a Malala-phobe per se, who resents her identity as a poster child for resistance to coercion, but quibbles because she has become a brand bigger than her authentic, grassroots self. But their reductive, often well-meaning, criticism misses the simple point that even Brand Malala fills a deep vacuum in Pakistan. It also ignores the volume of damage their objecting voices do in a polarized, fraught environment where the air is taut with the gun-smoke of terror and the wild-eyed certainties of suicide missions.  They ignore the need for clarity against an enemy which is contemptuous of doubt, or its philosophical groundings.

So please, let us see the Malala Moment for all the right stories it tells about us. Let us in fact, seize this moment in all that it embodies. Let us come together, to build momentum to ensure that it doesn’t pass. (the writer is Chair of Jinnah Institute and ex-Ambassador to Washington and former Federal Minister, Pakistan)

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2013.

Reader Comments (10)

  • Asma Tanvir Usmani
    Oct 12, 2013 - 8:47AM

    Good write up. Malala is a powerful symbol of girls’ right to education , so those who are against this fundamental principle perceive her as a threat and use verbal means ,print and social media to oppose what she represents. A few have attempted at her life and having failed threaten to do exactly the same. The reassuring point is that she has brought out the fact that those who oppose her are a small minority and Pakistanis are all Malala with a few exceptions.

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  • Glad
    Oct 12, 2013 - 1:16PM

    Excellent Op-Ed. Also great to see Sherry Rehman writing for the Express Tribune! Like Malala, Sherry Rehman herself is an inspiring and a positive role model for Pakistani girls.

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  • M. Emad
    Oct 12, 2013 - 2:12PM

    Sherry Rehman herself hiding in USA from Taliban and Pakistan anti-corruption officers. She seems infected with village girl ‘Malala Mania’. Pakistan thought process devoid of any logic and rational.

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  • Oct 12, 2013 - 2:58PM

    Good write up… one of the few good ones about Malala

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  • unbelievable
    Oct 12, 2013 - 8:10PM

    Mostly, this is not a Malala-phobe per
    se, who resents her identity as a
    poster child for resistance to
    coercion, but quibbles because she has
    become a brand bigger than her
    authentic, grassroots self

    It’s simpler than that. Malala gets nothing but good press in the West and that alone is reason for suspicion and outright hatred. Bias provides the perfect excuse to ignore facts and develop nonsensical conspiracy theories which seem to surround Malala.

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  • S
    Oct 12, 2013 - 9:52PM

    @M Emad: Sherry Rehman is in Pakistan. She came right back after resigning from her ambassadorial position. Do some research before you make allegations.

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  • unbelievable
    Oct 12, 2013 - 10:54PM

    @M. Emad:

    Sherry Rehman herself hiding in USA
    from Taliban and Pakistan
    anti-corruption officers. She seems
    infected with village girl ‘Malala
    Mania’. Pakistan thought process
    devoid of any logic and rational.

    Rehman isn’t in the USA which pretty much rubbishes your entire statement. Another article in today’s ET indicates she was giving a speech at one of your Universities. Bias (in your case both anti west and anti Malala) is a convenient excuse for ignoring facts – regardless of how obvious those facts are.

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  • Murtaza Khurshid
    Oct 14, 2013 - 2:10AM

    Well written article?? The argument posed lacked substance and depth. Ms. Rehman also did well in providing the general polarized narrative being spewed in the living rooms of the elite and halls of parliament.

    Writing it off as an extremist right and a post modern left? I think Ms. Rehman is much more capable than that. Those of us who actually look at at facts rather than the narrative being posed would come to a different conclusion.

    The success in Malala is one of ‘manufacturing consent’ in the words of Lipman. What happened to her was horrible, no more so than any violence on any child anywhere in the world. No human deserves such treatment.

    If the perpetrator of this heinous crime was not the taliban, but an american, british or french soldier ; would we have seen Malala ” daughter of the nation” or just girl aged 14 dies in Swat after being attacked.

    That is the real debate, and one worth having. I’m quite flabbergasted that intelligent open minded people can’t see that?

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  • razia
    Oct 17, 2013 - 7:01PM

    the debate in general is not against malala but the hypocrisy and double standards of the west.

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  • Awais Hameed
    Oct 19, 2013 - 1:50AM

    Malala has definitely defied what was pre dominently dark order for women folks. She deserves more than what she is receiving at the moment. Actually it’s her over projection in the Western media which has caused a stir among her admirers. They are treating her as an Anti-radical-islam publicity product. It seems less about Malala’s greatness and more about the clash of civilizations. May the good sense prevail!

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