Malala Yousafzai is 23 years old. She is a Pakistani. She has won the Nobel Peace Prize. She runs a global girls’ education charity. She graduated from Oxford University. This month, she was a guest star on the Friends reunion. This week, she made the cover of British Vogue.
But why are so many Pakistanis so angry with her? Why does one feel that this determined young woman can do no right? The latest outrage is over an article based on an interview that Malala gave to Vogue magazine.
In this, Malala talks about a lot of topics including marriage. In one comment she asks rhetorically why someone should get married. She says she is not sure whether she would get married and then goes on to talk about some of her thoughts on the subject. That is enough for Pakistanis to get ignited.
The larger question here is — why are we such an intolerant society when it comes to a 23-year-old young woman? What is it that triggers us when it comes to Malala Yousafzai?
I remember it was a proud moment for Pakistan in 2014 when 17-year-old Malala received the Nobel Prize along with 60-year-old Kailash Satyarthi, a human rights campaigner from India.
More inspiring was the speech Malala made while accepting her award, when she talked about education instead of war. The speech was particularly significant because of the fact that her co-recipient was an Indian.
Since then, Malala has talked about girls’ education. She has made it a point to focus on this issue in every speech she makes.
Unlike India, where the awardee was universally welcomed and acknowledged, some people in Pakistan termed the struggle that Malala has made so far to be a western conspiracy to show Muslims in a bad light.
There are many other deserving candidates, after all, argued some. But one of the people who was named as more deserving, Abdus Sattar Edhi, went public by saying that Malala fully deserved the award. This, of course, did not silence the naysayers.
While Satyarthi returned to a hero’s welcome in his home country, it was tragic that Malala can only dream to come back to Pakistan safely and with the welcome she deserved.
Possibly the most disappointing response to Malala’s award came from her home province. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is yet to honour Malala despite a joint resolution being submitted in the house by Awami National Party’s (ANP) Syed Jafar Shah and Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Nighat Orakzai.
Shah had moved the resolution on October 13, 2014, a few days after Malala was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. On one occasion when Orakzai wanted to move the resolution along with Shah, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Muhammad Ali objected to it. The JI MPA, who hails from Upper Dir, said such a resolution should also call for the release of Aafia Siddiqui from a US jail. In response, speaker Asad Qaiser (now speaker of the National Assembly) directed them to draft a joint resolution.
The house passed a resolution on Aafia Siddiqui, asking the federal government to press the US government for her release on October 29. However, on the very same day, the speaker did not allow Orakzai to speak about Malala and directed her to bring a fresh resolution.
After submitting a fresh resolution, Shah and Orakzai hoped that the house would pass it following the Muharram break. But Orakzai said that the treasury benches did not want to discuss Malala Yousafzai on the floor of the house.
That was 2014. This is 2021. This time round, members of K-P Assembly asked Malala’s family to clarify their position over the remarks made by Malala in the Vogue interview.
The PPP MPA from Upper Dir, Sahibzada Sanaullah, raised the issue on a point of order. He wanted the government to probe what Malala had really said and what had been attributed to her in the interview which is circulating on social media and shared widely.
He said marriage is a sacred institution in every religion and ‘partnership’ is not allowed, so if someone supports it then it is condemnable. He said this is a serious issue needing clarification from Malala and her family. One can only wonder where the priorities of the K-P Assembly lie. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2021.