Why is maligning Malala a national hobby?

She was not advocating for live in relationships or saying anything explicit against religious values

Raza Habib Raja June 08, 2021

“I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership?” These words from Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai during an interview have caused a storm. Social media is once again abuzz with hate-filled trends, and Pakistanis are fuming as visible by the tweets mentioned below:

“Today I am proud on myself for never supporting her :)

At least being useless is better than being Malala”

The fact is that our faith is in danger because of this woman. She did not speak for the rights of #Palestinian women. She is just wearing a cloak of #Islam. Shame on her.

So according to #Malala you can live with someone "without getting married" just as PARTNER, wearing dupatta and promoting western thoughts is a reason why Pakistanis don't support this HYPOCRISY anymore!”

The online blowback is so intense that even showbiz personalities like Mathira, who for years has violated conventional morals to gain fame, has joined the anti-Malala bandwagon and is trying to teach her the importance of Sunnah which include the nikkah. It seems that by doing so her previous sins have been forgiven by the Pakistani nation.

“Even Mathira knows better than Malala about Islam & the importance of Nikkah,” said one person on Twitter. Not to be outdone, Veena Malik, who just a short decade ago made headlines after she posed nude for an Indian magazine, also cursed Malala openly. Moreover, some of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s parliament members also deliberated on this issue of “national importance” and demanded that the young Nobel laureate clarify her stance.

Before this interview, Pakistanis also put a lot of pressure on Malala to condemn Israel and when she finally did, many accused her of hypocrisy and cowardice as she used the word conflict instead of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

So, is there anything wrong with what she said about marriage? Since Pakistan is a religious country, and she is a Pakistani who also claims to represent Islamic values, many are objecting that her statement contradicts the very values she represents.

To be honest, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what Malala said about marriage as she was merely asking an abstract question. She was not advocating for live in relationships or saying anything explicit against religious values. We all have asked ourselves such questions while growing up. Ali Sethi perhaps nailed it when he called Malala’s remarks mere abstract speculation about the efficacy of marriage.

The irony is that many of the haters are also Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters, whose chief has lived a ‘colourful’ life for the most part, which was in direct contradiction of religious values.

The reality is that many are making this an issue merely because of the immense hatred for Malala. Likewise expecting Malala to take a harsh stance on Palestine is nonsensical. If Pakistanis actually care so much about Palestine, shouldn’t they be taking the issue up with their government, pushing them to take it up with other Muslim leaders.

It seems that no matter what the young woman does, Pakistanis are going to hate her. In fact, hatred against her is so intense that many don’t care for any facts. Even nine years after being shot, many still think that it was a hoax and that she was never shot. Many think she is an agent of the foreign powers being groomed to break Pakistan in the future.

She is also being constantly compared to Waleed Khan, one of the survivors of the APS massacre and constantly blamed for leaving Pakistan whereas the latter supposedly chose to stay. None of the haters even bothered to check that Khan too is living in the UK and in fact was forced to come to Malala’s defence when the vitriol against her reached sickening levels.

But why do Pakistanis hate her so much? Some argue that the major reason is misogyny. After all there is no doubt that our society is patriarchal and therefore it is quite reasonable to believe that hatred towards Malala is a reflection of that. Pakistanis hate her because as a young woman Malala has achieved global fame and is a darling of the West.

However, I personally think that crude misogyny alone provides only a partial answer. After, all Pakistanis don’t hate all women who are international achievers. For example, when Nergis Mavalvala made headlines many Pakistanis were ecstatic.

I think it is the interplay of misogyny and schizophrenic nationalism which provides a complete answer. Pakistanis hate her because she survived the attack and her ordeal brought international focus on the mistreatment of women in Pakistan. The more the West adored her, more Pakistanis hated her and actually blamed her for bringing a bad name to Pakistan. Many Pakistanis started to complain that she was being used for sinister purposes by the West and even started to doubt the facts surrounding her attack.

The sad reality, completely overlooked by Pakistanis is that it is not her but those who shot her that brought a bad name to Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan ranks third last in the global gender gap index, and this dismal ranking is by no stretch of imagination her fault but of the structural and cultural factors which are heavily skewed against women. In fact, if anything the efforts that Malala made to ensure the education of girls in Pakistan provided hope that not all is lost. However, by openly hating her we are further damaging our already tarnished reputation with respect to gender inequality.

Raza Habib Raja

The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs, Syracuse University. He regularly writes for the Express Tribune, HuffPost, Daily Times and Naya Daur. He tweets @razaraja

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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