Malala and Abeer: The difference in the narrative told by the West

The West made Malala a hero to suit it's own agenda. She deserved it, but so did Abeer. She was raped by a US soldier.

Ayesha Nasir October 18, 2013
Have you heard of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi?

Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi was a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who lived in a house to the southwest of Yusufiyah, a village to the west of the town of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq. She lived a middle-class life with her 34-year-old mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 45-year-old father Qasim Hamza Raheem, two brothers and younger sister, six-year-old Hadeel Qasim Hamza.

Though not much is known about Abeer, one can imagine her childhood; playing with rag dolls, following her mother as she made khameeri rotis and tossing one pebble after another in a stream running near their house.

When the US invasion of Iraq took place, Abeer’s father continued to permit his sons to attend school but kept Abeer home due to security concerns. Neighbours later recalled that she wasn’t allowed to do much other than assist her mother in the chores and tend to their vegetable garden.

Their house was only 200 meters away from a US traffic checkpoint, and the neighbours later remarked that they often observed the soldiers watching Abeer and smiling at her. One of her brothers stated that during a search of the house, a US soldier ran his finger down Abeer’s cheek. On another occasion, her mother told her relatives that she had seen the soldiers giving the thumbs up signs to Abeer.

On March 12, 2006, five soldiers walked to Abeer’s house, and separated her from her family. They shot the parents and sister dead, and proceeded to rape Abeer before killing her. They then burnt the house down, and pretended that Sunnis had set off the fire.

Later on, the crime was uncovered and the perpetrators arrested. The mastermind of the crime admitted on record that he didn’t think Iraqis were humans.

Abeer was going to school before the US invasion but had to stop going because of her father’s concerns for her safety. She probably had high hopes of studying and becoming a professional. Her father’s commitment to education is evidenced by the fact that he insisted his sons continue going to school even after the invasion had begun.

Abeer wanted to study and wanted to go to school but was stopped from doing so by men with another agenda.

Does her story sound familiar?

Malala wanted to study, wanted to go to school but was stopped from doing so by men with another agenda.

Both suffered, but while Malala was picked up by the West as a champion against the Taliban, Abeer’s story was erased out of history books. Where Western journalists took pains to write Malala’s story in detail, invite her to receptions, give her awards, even help her write a book, the story of another girl yearning for an education was discussed nowhere.

I don’t want to take the spotlight off of Malala. She is a brave girl and one we are all proud off. Her eloquence, innocence and valour are all admirable. But while applauding her stance, we need to wonder why Malala has been made a hero and Abeer’s story hasn’t even merited one front page story.

Yes Malala is a hero. And a victim. But Abeer is no less.

Why give the West the power to shape our narrative? Why not shape it ourselves.
Ayesha Nasir A journalist and writer based in Islamabad. She has previously worked for the national in Abu Dhabi: and the daily times. She tweets @talkatease (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Meriam Sabih | 9 years ago | Reply Malala is a PAKISTANI hero and activist. To divert attention from a child activist shot for defending the rights of girls to go to school and now advocating for Education, Tolerance and Unity (when terrorism and extremist ideologies are such a huge problem in Pakistan) and instead point to an Iraqi victim of rape(which is a horrible crime) does not make sense. Please see my reply "Silencing Malala Yousafzai and the Brown Man's Honor Complex" "Comparing her to victims of violence who were not specifically targeted for their fierce activism (literally called out by name and shot in the head for only that reason alone) doesn’t make sense, even though their deaths are tragic and wrong." Please share my piece with your friends! Thank you!
Cute Man | 9 years ago | Reply Malala is a Robot designed by Intel and Microsoft, fuelled by starbucks coffee to malign pakistan.
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