Malala — pride of the nation

Published: October 13, 2014
The writer is based in Princeton, New Jersey. He tweets @mziaadnan

The writer is based in Princeton, New Jersey. He tweets @mziaadnan

“My world has changed, but I have not changed,” she wrote in her autobiography, I Am Malala. In an NDTV interview a year ago, she told Barkha Dutt that she is afraid of ghosts, not of the Taliban. Now, two years after the shot from the gun that targeted her was heard around the world, the Swat-cum-Birmingham schoolgirl is the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize “for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education”.

One would think that there is little to take issue with, as far as Malala’s rise to fame is concerned. However, for the virtual sceptics and conspiracy theorists, Malala is undeserving of recognition, or rather, is the main protagonist of an elaborate publicity stunt. Following the announcement of her win, the distinction between Western and Pakistani reactions was clear: those in the West lauded the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, while some Pakistani reactions were replete with cynicism. I ask, is the advocacy of peace not a universal belief?

In some ways, this reactionary backlash against Malala is partly understandable. It is certainly true that she was only one of many schoolgirls in Taliban-controlled areas who struggled for their right to education. However, doesn’t her vocal call for change and improvement embody the voices of her peers, struggling to be heard? If a class has been dismissed for her former classmates, can’t she speak for them?

During Pervez Musharraf’s era of enlightened moderation, the General struggled to show the rest of the world, Pakistan’s ‘soft face’. In a 2004 Washington Post op-ed, he explained this new approach: “It is a two-pronged strategy. The first part is for the Muslim world to shun militancy and extremism and adopt the path of socioeconomic uplift. The second is for the West, and the United States in particular, to seek to resolve all political disputes with justice and aid for the socioeconomic betterment of the deprived Muslim world.” The General’s domestic agenda included a cultural liberalisation — pop and rock concerts, fashion shows and the celebration of art and culture became routine. Musharraf himself jumped onto the stage at a 2001 concert held in Karachi.

Alas, Pakistan’s soft face became mutilated by stories of assassinations, suicide bombings and the elephant in the room, the military dictator himself. Those with an intense distaste for Malala’s status as a ‘roving ambassador’ believe that her claim to fame affirms all of these things about Pakistan. I disagree.

While the circumstances in which Malala rose to prominence are unfortunate, her campaign is against a very vocal and radical minority, not against Pakistan itself; her detractors need to recognise this and come to terms with the fact that the schoolgirl is here to stay. As Pakistanis and believers in peace, we should stand by her and not worry about a supposed loss of credibility in the world’s eyes.

When Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won the Academy Award for Saving Face in 2012, there was nothing but applause for the Oscar winner. Malala’s detractors — those who fear our reputation will somehow become tainted by the idea of bringing to light the threat of the Taliban to our stability — probably didn’t realise that a documentary on acid attack victims could have the same effect. Regardless, Obaid-Chinoy’s win is something that I, as a Pakistani, will continue to be proud of, just as I am proud of Malala’s struggle for education in a part of the world that is still dealing with the gaping wound of intolerance and radicalisation. While she may only be afraid of ghosts, this gaping wound is a genuine fear for the majority of Pakistanis.

Through Malala’s courage and determination, may we find the ability to stand upright once again, to show the world that the narrative of our nation is not one of oppression and cruelty; may we then be recognised and applauded for something other than exposes on acid attack victims, or shot schoolgirls campaigning for basic human rights.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Ananya
    Oct 13, 2014 - 1:30AM

    Wonderfully written and truly eloquent.


  • Asad
    Oct 13, 2014 - 1:33AM

    Very true, and extremely well-written.

    Malala is a victim of rumours.


  • Jawaid
    Oct 13, 2014 - 2:17AM

    Grandpa Ziaul is actually the cause of the suffering she and indeed all of Pakistanis are experiencing while you are snug, living off all the loot your granda Ziaul stashed. Nice try junior…


  • Frank
    Oct 13, 2014 - 2:51AM

    Well, Malala maybe a hero but traitors to the constitution and democracy do not get to decide that.


  • Bilal
    Oct 13, 2014 - 5:03AM

    I’m so glad you brought up the point of the Oscar win and compared it to this – it was bugging me too the way people reacted and this is a good wake-up call to them. Kudos.


  • wonderer
    Oct 13, 2014 - 8:30AM

    Nice write up by a very young charming man! Well-done!

    He reminded me of the following song:

    Malala gives me hope……..


  • Oct 13, 2014 - 8:53AM

    Absolutely proud of her. Even Dr. Salam salutes her from the heaven.


  • NA
    Oct 13, 2014 - 9:02AM

    Women and girls suffered a lot under Ziaul Haq. He tortured many including BB. Before championing Malala’s cause, please condemn your grandpa!!


  • Kamran
    Oct 13, 2014 - 9:16AM

    Ask Imran Khan can his weak personality stand Malala, he banned her book in KP


  • Shazia Bangash
    Oct 13, 2014 - 11:36AM

    What “reactionary backlash”? Some unidentified trolls on twitter? EVERYONE of ANY importance in Pakistan has hailed this brave and articulate young women! But forgive us if we are less than impressed with how her NATO handlers – murderers of more Pashtuns than the evil Taliban have killed – have exploited her for PR purposes. It has a nuanced some of the joy we feel for this award to an amazing young Pakistani. It is NATO’s insidious narrative that Pakistanis have a problem with Malala because of a “loss of credibility in the world’s eyes.” If you only lived in Pakistan you would know its not that, we love this brave girl, but we have contempt for those who are using her for propaganda purposes. Fairly or unfairly, we are suspicious of an award previously given to Henry Kissinger.


  • Uzair
    Oct 13, 2014 - 1:50PM

    Young Mr Zia Adnan: It is heartening to see that you are so different, and so much better than your grandfather. As I’ve commented here before, the sins of the father are not the sins of the son. I hope you get the chance to do some amazing things in life and undo the terrible fate your grandfather bestowed on our country.


  • csmann
    Oct 13, 2014 - 4:37PM

    @Shazia Bangash:
    This is a new twist by Malala detractors.Now they claim they love the girl,but hate her for Nato/US conspiracy.But the underlying hatred is for the girl only.Also TTP killed over 50,000 Pakistanis/Pakhtoons.Enlighten us on the number killed by NATO.Even Afghan Taliban kill more Afghanis than their purported enemy-ISAF.The ratio is over 100 aFGHANS KILLED by Taliban to 1 ISAF soldier killed by them.


  • KN
    Oct 13, 2014 - 5:14PM

    True that Malala suffered a lot. She is a very brave girl. True yet again that she wrote a competent and enlightening article in BBC at a very tender age. But I have a few questions:
    – The writer himself admits she is just one of the girls who has suffered like this. Many suffer worse too. If they are given a chance and the facilities and the political refuge she has been given, there would be hundreds of nobel prize winners in Pakistan alone!
    – A lot many people have done so much for the betterment of people in general and children and women in particular that deserve even better than Malala’s speeches etc to be recognized for their contribution
    – As a common girl living in one of the most terror struck cities in Pakistan, I do not see how Malala has impacted my life by a single inch. I do feel, however, the daily humanitarian works being conducted on a daily basis here by unknown heroes.
    – Can anyone list her contributions that make her deserving for this? Has she, at such a young age, really achieved something that hundreds of people across the globe haven’t done yet?

    I doubt the judgement of nobel prize team on these grounds. I have lost faith in it.


  • Oct 13, 2014 - 8:59PM

    Wonderfully elaborated.


  • Parvez
    Oct 14, 2014 - 12:20AM

    Zia’s grandson praising Malala…….well the spirit of charity and feel good abounds, so ……well done that was heartfelt and genuine effort.


  • SV
    Oct 14, 2014 - 3:24AM

    Pride of nation can’t come home! Nation can’t give any protection!!


  • Shazia Bangash
    Nov 25, 2014 - 3:56PM

    @csmann: You’re dead wrong. Ive been following Malala since her blogging days and have been an admirer of hers since long before NATO decided to use her. And there have been over 100,000 mostly civilian deaths caused by NATO’s bombardment during its invasion and military occupation of Afghanistan. This may be small compared to the 1.6 million NATO murdered in its invasion and occupation of Iraq, but its still more than were killed by the savage Taliban.


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