We are not all brave

Published: October 14, 2012
The writer is assistant editor at South Asia Magazine. The views expressed are her own

The writer is assistant editor at South Asia Magazine. The views expressed are her own

While we question why scores of protestors did not swarm the streets against Malala Yousufzai’s shooting the way they did against a low-budget, crude anti-Islam video just a few weeks back, we forget that we, ourselves, are victims of fear. We condemn Taliban practices in harsh terms and lament the current state of affairs, all from the comfort of a Facebook status, a tweet, a blog or a living room discussion. Malala Yousufzai is mature beyond her years and courageous beyond her knowledge, becoming in effect, an icon of courage and hope for millions of young Pakistanis. Contrary to numerous opinions, I admit with shame and regret that we are all NOT Malala. We are not as brave and courageous as a 14-year-old girl, who fearlessly chronicled her desires to attain an education in one of the most dangerous parts of the country in some of the worst times it has seen, and took two bullets for it. We are paralysed by fear in a society that gives us little protection and no assurances. Girls like Malala put us to shame.

Protestors are stronger when they are large in number. Mobs possess the strength to dismiss fear and generate confidence, whether for good or bad and in doing so, affect attitudes and perceptions. Anyone who has run a social activism campaign will attest that support readily flows through electronic channels but street power against a dangerous enemy is rare to find and fear is a valid excuse.

Another reason why extremists are able to conduct brutal attacks is because they are emboldened and directed through a clear and cohesive ideology. Their purpose, though heinous, is similar and in this aim they are united. We, on the other hand, remain divided, fragmented and victims of an existential crisis.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the lack of a support base. It is unfortunate to live in a society where young girls have to fight for their basic rights but it is more unfortunate that state forces can offer little support and security for those who do. In a country where a teenager is more able and willing to challenge radical ideology rather than the government or the army, Pakistan is in serious trouble. Education is the key to changing attitudes and fostering reason; it is even more critical in a country that spends only 2.7 per cent of its GDP on education and where barely 26 per cent of girls and 12 per cent of women are literate. UNESCO statistics on the literacy rate in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan lies between alarming rates of three to eight per cent.

Malala’s case was not about drone attacks but rather about a rigid ideology, driven by power hungry fringe groups, desperately attempting to infiltrate Pakistan’s social fabric, proving that negotiations with the Taliban are not a realistic solution. Pakistan will have to brace itself for painful times if the enemy is truly to be stamped out in the long run. State forces will have to undoubtedly combine, diplomatically and militarily, to weed out the enemy in a consistent and committed manner. For our part, we will not only have to draw inspiration from a remarkable teenager, but also hope that more like Malala are born every day.

The heinous attack on her has already triggered much outcry and the fight for girls’ education must continue. In a country that hits a new low almost every day, we mustn’t let Malala’s struggle be forgotten and replaced as quickly as newspaper headlines. Let’s not fool ourselves into believing that we are as courageous as Malala but hope that one day, we can get there. We owe it to her to do so.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Californian
    Oct 14, 2012 - 11:42PM

    Arsla, you are a very brave girl living in a stone age misogynistic society. I hope that more young women will have the courage to speak up. It seems that men in your society are the ones who should be convinced to get out of the dark cave prisons of their minds. Unless they stop being scared of mullahs and the taliban, your future will remain harsh.


  • Praying4Malala
    Oct 14, 2012 - 11:56PM

    “we mustn’t let Malala’s struggle be forgotten and replaced as quickly as newspaper headlines.”

    So well said!!!! We are NOT as brave as Malala but she is certainly an inspiration. Her bravery has put us to shame and you’re right, many of us would not have the guts to do what she said. But MAYBE that will change now. She has woken us up, unfortunately that is what it took.


  • Rationale
    Oct 14, 2012 - 11:58PM

    Bringing tribal areas on negotiation table is the only solution Miss Naive.
    Everyone condemns this and public opinion through electronic media and polls is sufficient. If you think it’s not then please lead a public protest against Taliban I will join you. If not then stop persuading others


  • Parvez
    Oct 15, 2012 - 12:19AM

    Malala is a child, I really doubt that she expected a coward sent by criminals to shoot her at point blank range in the head and still mess it up big time, because God was on Malala’s side – no one else. The narrative has gone way beyond girls education and everyone realises this. It how they respond that will be crucial and if they don’t it will be suicidal.


  • Carl Glynn
    Oct 15, 2012 - 12:37AM

    A couple of quotes:-

    “There is nothing to fear but fear itself” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” – Edmund Burke


  • Tahir Ali
    Oct 15, 2012 - 1:07AM

    A very well written piece. However, in my reckoning the problem is much more complex. In the public perception Pakistan is ‘an ideological state’ and since the Islamic concept of nationalism advocates the concept of ‘ummah’, majority of the masses, especially in the rural areas, who remain under the influence of religious clergy, consider Taliban’s struggle as legitimate. They fail to comprehend as to why ‘Mujahideen’ of yester-years who fought the Soviet forces in the eighties along-side USA are now called ‘terrorists’, just because they are fighting the US forces. To date, neither the media nor the politicians have picked up the courage to change this mind-set and educate the masses. The complexity of the issue can be gauged from the fact that over 40000 Pakistanis have been killed by the militants but still there is sympathy for them.

    Despite being a pluralist organization, the intake in military also comes from the same background, Islam is still a major motivation and soldiers need to be convinced that the operations they undertake against their own people, or perceived to be such, are justified.
    Successful military operations were conducted in Swat and South Waziristan and both these areas were cleared of militants. These areas should have been taken over by the civil administration but they are reluctant to do so. To date, over 4000 soldiers with high ratio of officers, including four generals, have laid down their lives in fight against the militants and, as such, I consider it unfair to blame them.

    The conflict is ideological in nature and can only be fought on ideological grounds. We need to be clear whether Pakistan is an ideological state, a nation state or their is any co-relation between the two concepts with regard to creation of Pakistan. After all, Pakistan was created on the basis of two-nations theory and since religion was used as an instrument, it has provided the religious clergy with the leverage to use this instrument for fulfillment of their individual agendas.


  • Abreez
    Oct 15, 2012 - 1:13AM

    We, people of Pakistan, face every day harsh realities of life, sometimes it was even hard for one to breathe but he has to create a hope for his life. Sometime when I read comments of people who has nothing to do with people of Pakistan, who are not sharing their pain, people of elite class for whom black is black and white is white, know nothing about common people of Pakistan, for whom there are hundreds of shade of black and hundreds of shade of white, people of Pakistan know everything about politics and war against terrorism because they have no foreign nationalities and foreign accounts and they know that one day American interests demand from people of Pakistan to fight on the basis of Shia Sunni but they will remain as clam as they are now. One day it will be hard for moderates of Pakistan to utter name of America with respect, people of Pakistan know that with a deficit budget of $ 1,000,000,000,000 America can’t win the hearts of people of the world and now it’s time for America to pay for her crimes against humanity. If Pakistani army generals see any future of America they certainly undertake N. Waziristan operation but they know that now America has other priorities like Syria, now America wants the support of Mullahs of Afghanistan and low cost soldiers for Syria, CIA and Mullahs were allies in 80s and once again they will be allies in Syria, people of Pakistan are very courageous as they still have hope for future, as they still have dreams in their eyes, as they still know the politics of the world.


  • Max
    Oct 15, 2012 - 1:31AM

    Ms. Jawaid, Good! We are nothing but a bunch of opportunists, hypocrites, religious zealots, and certainly cowards. Standing in the face of a monster is not our characteristic but blindly following the dictates of religion and of powerful is our way of life. We emulate as pious, virtuous, and people of vision, and justice. The fact is that there is a little fascist inside each of us.
    Thank you for your article and showing us the mirror. I am glad that the next generation is doing this than following the misdeeds of my generations. If your generation comes and spits on our graves, it will make me very happy. We passed on the wrong torch in your hands, so we deserve it.


  • Aviator
    Oct 15, 2012 - 1:54AM

    Where do we go from here?


  • Praying4Malala
    Oct 15, 2012 - 3:25AM

    @Rationale It seems that you are the one who is naive and not the author. You DON’T negotiate with the Taliban (and Sami Shah has an excellent op-ed on this from a few days ago) and as you mentioned in your own post, polls and media reports etc, prove you wrong. I’m assuming you’re a PTI member (I could be wrong) but I don’t think the author is trying to tell us to get up and lead a peace march to N. Waziristan. Incidentally the last time someone attempted to do that, he didn’t even end up getting there (Imran Khan, incase you’re still wondering).
    I agree with the author. People like Malala are unique and while we hail her as a hero it is perhaps time to get some inspiration and stop making ourselves feel courageous as her, because we’re not….YET.


  • mr. righty rightist
    Oct 15, 2012 - 7:34AM

    So many articles on this 14 year old girl.

    However, all these writings say the same thing. So, don’t know what the point is.

    Has anyone discussed what is the root cause for army to not take on militants?

    What is the reason?


  • antanu g
    Oct 15, 2012 - 12:02PM

    the author with all her RIGHTEOUS thinking is also responsible for present state….ridiculing others for not risIng up to the change from the comfort of her room is what ails the society.Pakistani intelligentsia is the mail culprit in the mess.if not agree with me then try to assess its role to get a proper understanding of the issue.as for general mentality of Pakistani populace is concerned could any body tell me HOW MANY SEATS IN THE PARLIAMENT IS SHARED BY RELIGIOUS PARTIES?Recommend

  • LionOfPunjab
    Oct 15, 2012 - 7:05PM

    All the problems has one solution, vote for Imran T. khan! He will make us brave in 90 days, once he is elected!


  • prakash
    Oct 15, 2012 - 7:32PM

    @ Tahir Ali
    Brother you are spot on.
    Identifying the problem is half work done. Hope somebody does the other half.
    Best wishes from Delhi


  • Noor
    Oct 15, 2012 - 11:49PM

    Arsla & @Tahir Ali:

    We can’t compare the blasphemic video with Malala incident. The respect for the religious figure heads is very clearly valid & its violation calls for strict actions so that this world doesn’t become free to do anything. Havig said this I alos endorse Malala’s life as more sanctious than the Holy Kaaba, as per the Prophet Muhammad PBUH’s Hajj Sermon.
    No, Sir, we don’t feel Taliban are doing legitimate work in Pakistan. We, th epeople of Pakistan, beleive that they’re planted people from our hostile nations who also control Nat’l & Int’l media. Their controllers make them perform an act & mould the public opinion by showing half truth through the media, for their own specific agenda.
    It is by & large an intelligence & unity crisis among Muslim countries, whose undue advantage is being claimed by the hostile party.
    We are also to be blamed for our own weakening of faith, characters, morales & lust for money that we tend to ignore collective benefit of Muslims agaist our personal or party’s benefit.
    The way out of present crisis is by repenting on our mis-deeds and correcting our dis-honest & selfish attitudes, which will result in Divine Help, just as Quran tells us about Bani Israel, and we’ll be out of crisis situation.
    Quran tells us, most of Prophets prayed to Allah that they were weak against the non-beleivers and sought His help, BUT it was after being righteous themselves for so many years. We can follow the course BUT after we correct ourselves.

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