Maligning Malala — the sound and the fury

Published: October 31, 2014
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The writer is an incorrigible optimist especially for all things South Asian and holds a master’s degree from The Fletcher School at Tufts University. She tweets @dL70

The writer is an incorrigible optimist especially for all things South Asian and holds a master’s degree from The Fletcher School at Tufts University. She tweets @dL70

Malala refused to retreat; to fade away as an impotent shadow of who she wanted to be; encouraged by her family, she stepped out boldly. ‘I am afraid of no one,’ she cried.

She may as well have waved a red flag to a bull: in this case, Pakistan’s Taliban, who duly set out to impress upon her the folly of her ways. Their crystal ball was shrouded in mist that day. It failed to predict the logical outcome of shooting a courageous young girl asking for her right to an education. Why, a speech at the United Nations and the Nobel Peace Prize of course.

Somebody should have told those pesky Westerners to leave our heroes — and our villains — alone. Their accolades inspire witch-hunts; their opprobrium, instant martyrs. Just add an imaginary CIA agent, and we Pakistanis will be reading from our tired old scripts long into the night.

Pakistanis should have basked in the reflected glory of a young Pakistani girl addressing the United Nations, receiving the Nobel Prize and standing tall against the odds — as proud Pakistanis. Conspiracy theories be damned. Instead, an avalanche of contempt came tumbling down upon Malala’s head as she was named joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize — mostly from Pakistanis.

“Achievements, really?” sneered the contemptuous. “But what has she done?” asked the disdainful; Well, let’s see: she’s inspired kids around the world to launch charities, raise funds for children’s education; inspired oppressed young people to raise their voices; to believe that ‘one pen, one child’ will eventually change the world.

A recent article in one of Pakistan’s national newspapers quotes girls from Malala’s hometown who, inspired by her achievements, are standing up against their menfolk, asking to be educated, refusing to be married at 13. Some young, lucky ones have family (read: male) support. Others, young wives and mothers, must ask permission from husbands who may or may not give it.

For oppressed, controlled, enslaved, young girls and women all over the world, Malala is an inspiration. To rebel. You’re beginning to see the problem here?

And before anybody climbs on that overloaded donkey cart of tired polemic against an interpretation of faith that is misogynistic in nature; let’s be clear here. Misogyny predates Islam. Patriarchic cultures predate Islam.

So, who is this — much maligned, feverishly feted child — anyway?

If you ask Malala, as Kamila Shamsie did in an interview with her, she replies “the real Malala is gone somewhere, and I can’t find her”.

Once upon a time, Malala was just a child thirsty for knowledge; a passionate activist standing up for a girl’s right to be educated in a conservative, patriarchal society; a courageous girl sticking her head up, high above forbidding parapets. But this was all before conniving Westerners searching for unlikely heroes ‘discovered’ her and put her on a pedestal.

Now, in some Pakistani quarters, and there seem to be rather a lot of these, Malala and her father, a hero and activist in his own right, are CIA agents at worst and American stooges at best. In her naivety, or her father’s calculated business interests, Malala has become a puppet of the West’s propaganda machine deserving of public disdain for accepting the rewards her exalted masters choose to toss into her outstretched arms.

It’s not as if she’s done real work, goes the argument. And with that, Malala’s young life is dismissed. Years of defying the Taliban and attending school; being an active campaigner for female education; writing as an undercover blogger to reveal the cruel and capricious reality of Taliban rule in Swat — swept away by the force of one trite comment.

Too many Pakistanis believe the entire Malala Story is a conspiracy.

A conspiracy for what you ask? Why, to disgrace Pakistanis in the eyes of the world. The irony of the very idea is lost on our conspiracy theory peddlers.

Why else would a child blogger garner so much attention for being shot at when hundreds of children are dying all around us, ask the naysayers? It can only be the dastardly foreign hand up to its usual, clearly unclear, nefarious deeds. Poppycock.

The world is feting this child because she’s gracious, defiant, intelligent and courageous in the face of brutal misogyny. That’s an achievement not too many of us can claim — young or old! While most teens struggle with sloshing hormones, social media intrigue and how best to share fashion tips on YouTube, Malala grabbed opportunity with both hands. And with that, she should have inspired our children — enabled their innocence and sense of wonder to slice through the haze of paranoia and prejudice that conspires against Pakistan’s progress.

Pakistan is drifting towards an intolerant, petty, ignorant, cruel, remarkably arrogant reality and is in dire need of heroes — young and old; humble and bold; fearless and wary.

If she had died the day she was shot, she would have been mourned as Pakistan’s little hero. Thanks to her miraculous recovery (suspicious, huh) and ‘Western’ adulation, she lives, a constant reminder of Pakistan’s eternal shame — sadly to her eternal disgrace.

Malala is testimony to the nobility, grace, inspiration and sheer passion that the good people of Pakistan possess. If only we could see through the heavy shroud of mistrust and cynicism that blinds us.

To quote my favourite Brandeis sophomore, “it’s very sad though, that what she’s done warrants justification. The world needs more valiant people just like her…”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2014.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Jawaid
    Nov 1, 2014 - 12:09AM

    Really ashamed of the conduct of some of my countrymen-typical leg pullers, jealous to the core, bigoted to the bone. What they cant digest is some one from our ranks getting accolade and recognition. They opposed Nishan e Haider to the young hero of Parachinar, Aitezaz Hasan, the lamest excuse being that he was not an army employee. Here they will take pains describing the brave Malala as a US/Israeli agent and try to present counter heros , sometimes Mr Eidhi, some times soldiers fighting Taliban, sometimes Dr Afia or the Lal Masjid terror duo AbdulRashid and AbdulAziz. Shame on such leg pullers.

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  • Parvez
    Nov 1, 2014 - 12:34AM

    This unfortunate country produces one Makala, the best in many ways……..and many, many Mumtaz Qadri’s the worst in every way. Its an unequal battle but then good always triumphs over evil….so we are told.

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  • Zaida Parvez
    Nov 1, 2014 - 6:16AM

    There is a design fault in Pakistanis. They will do anything to deflect responsibility. Uncle Sam, India and Israel are readymade fall guys. Even heroes of Pakistan are swiftly maligned and cut down to size.

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  • Saima Razzack
    Nov 1, 2014 - 10:28AM

    May Malala always be a shining beacon of hope for Pakistan! Ameen

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  • Afnan Ali
    Nov 1, 2014 - 4:38PM

    Commending malala really irks.i haven’t been able to understand why is she being given so much importance and courage?columns after columns are paying tribute to her professed bravery and for her rhetorical educational slogans.There would be millions in our country more intelligent,more resourceful,and more deserving than malala.But sadly and ironically,they don’t have media unlike malala.After all,it’s a piece of cake for media to portray hero as a villian and vice-versa.For God sake stop reverring malala.

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  • Ratbag
    Nov 1, 2014 - 6:59PM

    If anyone thinks that its a conspiracy theory then read John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman. Its plain and simple, out of the millions who are killed including some people I know personally who took a stand for women’s right and education, why only her?

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  • Weirdity
    Nov 1, 2014 - 7:01PM

    @Afnan Ali: This article was specially written for people like you. You are asking the same question for which the answers have been given by the author but you are incapable of listening.

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  • Saima Razzack
    Nov 1, 2014 - 7:49PM

    Malala has tugged the hearts of the masses in the west. Her simple story of miraculous survival against odds after the shooting and the reason for her being shot has moved people, her youth her innocence has mass appeal . She was lucky that her story got told and she gained recognition. There are thousands of Malalas in a Pakistan. Unfortunately they have not become global symbols of strength and courage in adversity.
    Malala earned the peace prize because she is a symbol that people world over recognize and drive hope from.

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  • Hammad
    Nov 1, 2014 - 7:51PM

    If anyone can answer my question, even the writer if this blog herself, I will accept their point of view. Tell me, in the presence of men like Abdul Sattar Edhi, who have helped people in this country since he was a young man, how can anyone else be chosen for the Nobel Peace Prize????

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  • Nov 1, 2014 - 11:16PM

    Dear Hammad

    Saints like Edhi Sahib and Mahatma Gandhi don’t need the arrogant impertinence of mere human accolades.

    It is the greater message of Malala’s courage and indeed Mr Satyarthi’s – that we hope will inspire and encourage unsung heroes in the world’s hamlets, villages, towns and cities to raise their voices loud and clear. In the hopes that the silent majority will rise up in unconditional support and carry their message aloft – creating an enlightened, compassionate, prosperous world one village at a time.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your comments.

    Regards

    Razya

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  • Shamim Raj
    Nov 1, 2014 - 11:27PM

    Malala is an inspiration to many young women who don’t feel they have a voice. She is extra ordinary and should be respected for her courage, achievement and plans for her future which I know will lead to plans for her country, Pakistan. Just simple… she is the most selfless 17 year old I have come across in my family and friends that I know of… I wish her well and the height of success in whatever she chooses to do…

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  • csmann
    Nov 2, 2014 - 3:13AM

    @Afnan Ali:
    Jealousy and hatred seems to be getting the best of you. Anyway Malala stands for all the brave girls that you mention.

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  • Freeman
    Nov 3, 2014 - 9:32PM

    @Afnan Ali: M. Ali, let’s hear about the great things that you did age 15?

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  • Freeman
    Nov 3, 2014 - 9:45PM

    @Saima Razzack: Alas, it is an unfair world. Why haven’t those thousands of Malalas been recognized in Pakistan and celebrated? I and others have a vivid memory of the repulsive Mumtaz Qadri being showered with rose petals for killing Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer for opposing the barbaric blasphemy law. Imagine, killing one for his ideas, and celebrating another for taking a human life! That symbolizes the upside-down values and priorities of many of your fellow countrymen (with the emphasis on “men”)..

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