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.