Is Malala Not A Pakistani Hero To Celebrate?
This is with reference to how authorities in Pakistan have confiscated copies of elementary social studies textbook featuring a photo of Malala Yousufzai, the second Pakistani after Professor Abdus Salaam and the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2014). This picture appeared on a chapter of national heroes, alongside Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Malala is recognized as a global icon who is hailed for speaking out, refusing to be silenced by terrorists and continuing her campaign for millions of girls and boys who are denied the basic right to education and realize their potential. This fight for her basic right to go to school came with the ultimate price on October 9, 2012 when Taliban shot her at point blank range. Despite miniscule chances of survival, she made a miraculous recovery and reaffirmed the belief in the power of one young Muslim woman’s voice to inspire change for the better in the world.
It is unfortunate that in Malala’s homeland, Pakistan, she remains a controversial, polarizing and divisive figure with regards to her views on Islam and marriage. Last month in her interview with the British magazine Vogue featuring Malala on the cover, fully clad in a Muslim attire tunic and a duppata, she had questioned the need for marriage that triggered a huge backlash.
Our society is at its creative best when it comes to weaving conspiracy theories labeling our heroes celebrated internationally, acting as true ambassadors of the country accusing them of a western agenda pursuit. This is a ludicrous and illogical mindset. Take for instance when Malala addressed the world leaders at the United Nations stressing on provision of free education to every child in the world. Her message is universal and not limited to geographical boundaries that books and pens are the most powerful weapons to change the world. The right wing is wary of Malala as a symbol of women’s rights and resistance against Islamist forces. Would they call Taliban terrorists who shot her as Muslims? We conveniently brush under the carpet how Malala has lent her voice condemning drone attacks; how she has critiqued Israel’s state violence targeted at Palestinians and donated money to rebuild schools in Gaza.The Anti-Malala hate mongers forget how she has spoken out against bombings in Afghanistan, atrocities in Kashmir and the betterment of refugees.
Yes, Malala is exceptional and unique which is why we as Pakistanis should feel proud of her. Yes, she defied the stereotypical cultural norms, embodies a transnational and secular modernity which is exemplified by her emphasis on self autonomy, freedom of choice, advocacy of freedom and gender equality. Sadly, instead of being a symbol of courage for Muslims and Pakistanis to resist violence, Malala is portrayed as a villain.
By adopting this stance, we paint Islam as an oppressive religion and Pakistan as a nation with a regressive mindset towards women empowerment which as we all know is far from the truth. Malala has so far in my opinion used her stature to address grave problems such as state violence, Islamophobia and racism. She has conducted herself with remarkable grace as a Muslim woman, exhibited tact and great knowledge of global politics.
Seizure of the textbooks mentioned above are indicative of suppressing critical thinking and an ever rising intolerance to contemporary views contrary to extremist right wing Islamic beliefs. The reason given for confiscation of these textbooks is stated as Oxford University Press, the publishers had failed to obtain a no-objection certificate , NOC from the government when in spirit it just exhibits a new low in the state’s attempts to control information and manipulate public discourse. It is sad that our society is developing hatred and politicization of religion. However, leading rights groups including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, civic watch dogs and liberal politicians have demanded that these confiscation orders of school textbooks with Malala’s photos must be withdrawn. If our country does not consider Pakistani women of international stature like the late, first Muslim Woman Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto (who was killed by religious extremists in a 2007 suicide attack) and Malala Yousufzai (who again was a target of terrorism) as our heroes, then our nation should stop expecting any Messiahs to show them the path leading from darkness to light.