Malala is not a Bhutto, a Sharif, a Makhdoom or a Khar. She is not an heir to a political legacy. She is also not the first child to be attacked by the Taliban. Then why is she so relevant? Why the hue and cry over an attack on her? A cynical group has become active on the Social Media in Pakistan asking the question “Is Malala the only daughter of Pakistan?” and “What about showing sympathy of the many children who die because of Drone attacks?”
The attack on Malala was strongly condemned by Baan Ki Moon and even Barack Obama, whose own administration admitted to have caused 60 children casualties during Drone strikes. Just a few hours ago Madonna revealed Malala’s name stenciled over her back. So why had Malala taken the centre stage and has been turned into a symbol of resilience and courage?
Were the armed and strong Taliban really afraid of the ideals of a 14 year old girl as they were of that of Benazir Bhutto’s?
Both Malala and Benazir were condemned by the Taliban for being pro west. A friend, however, disagreed with the view that the Taliban were threatened by a girl and her books. He maintained that savages need not be scared of someone for them to kill them. It is a good enough reason for them that the other is person disagrees with their views. To add weight to his arguments he cited the recent killing of Shia Muslims in Pakistan by Taliban who being a minority do not pose a threat to the Taliban but follow a school of thought different from theirs. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps Taliban were just angry that Malala refused to sit at home and not attend school when they had occupied Malakand Divison back in 2008.
This appears a very plausible reason for me as I analyze the situation sitting in Karachi, thousands of kilometers away from Swat. But was Malala really my role model or did she really matter to the kids who live in the posh suburbs of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad and attend private westernized schools, enjoy the latest movies at the cinemas and shop for foreign brands at massive malls? The fact that half my friends admitted they haven’t even heard of Malala before this hugely publicized attack makes it easy for me to answer the questions above.
However, the schools, suburbs and malls of Karachi are not facing immediate threats from the Taliban (not yet). But the schools and neighbor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Swat is located, are always on red alert. It is that province where the Taliban thrive and where they exhibit their influence. Malala’s courage back in 2008 when she cried out on live television “Open my School!” may not have influenced me or my friends but it certainly spelled hope for her peers. When Malala got nominated for the international peace award and was covered by all the top newspapers of the world she certainly inspired and gave courage to all those girls who go to her school, who travel in her bus and who live in the neighborhoods haunted by the Taliban. Malala even after attaining international acclaim did not take a scholarship to attend school abroad or migrate to a more developed area of Pakistan. She stayed in Swat and believed that with her will she can excel at home and that only would have reaffirmed the belief of her peers in their home city and in the educational facilities available to them.
Where kids from even the most privileged families of Pakistan aspire for a career abroad and making a life for themselves in Europe or North America thereby adding to the brain drain crisis of Pakistan, Malala belongs to that distinct class who had the opportunity to move to greener pastures but she believed in making things right at home. Malala does not belong to so called liberal class of Pakistan who cherish and miss the years when Pakistan had casinos and pubs and it fell on the infamous hippy trail of the 1970’s. Malala’s liberal ideals are not tied down to having such avenues of entertainment in her city. However, her ideals appear to advocate the right for one to get the education and exposure which will allow one the freedom and wisdom to live life their own way.
Being a daughter of an educationist it is not hard to imagine why Malala’s biggest anxiety was the threat to her education when the Taliban occupied Malakand Division. Perhaps, barring everything else, had the Taliban not forbid education for female students, Malala being just 11 would have been unconcerned as to who rules the country. However, the Taliban challenged Malala’s ideals with their extremist laws and she refused to bow down and in doing so she taught her friends and their families to do the same. She not just challenged the authority of the Taliban but their ideology as well. An ideology which does not accepts arguments, contra reasoning or even an intellectual discourse.
When Malakand was rescued by the Armed Forces in 2008-09 we all saw deserted training camps of the Taliban on television. I still remember seeing murals of heaven and beautiful women, presented as infamous 70 virgins, drawn on the walls of those training camps. It was not heard to guess what was being taught there. The Taliban were not motivating their recruits with monetary benefits. It also only made it more certain that the Taliban are not a commercial enterprise which offers jobs. Being a force born out of an ideology they operate like an institution, though a menacing one, which brainwashes its recruits and takes away their ability to reason. Ideologies are not harmed by guns and drones. Ideologies are challenged by education of and exposure to the opposite views and in this instance it is Malala’s view. Her view that education is her right and it is her biggest tool to become a strong and independent individual. Her view that education will help her understand her religion, Islam, and the rights it gives to women better and thus not accept any orthodox and extremist fatwa thrown at her by the Taliban.
And the relevance of Malala’s ideology is not just limited to countering the Taliban. Pakistan suffers from various criminal cultural traditions which have nothing to do with the Taliban. Karo Kari, Watta Satta, bartering women for clearing debts, getting women married to shrines and holy books and child marriages. All this may change is Malala’s ideology of education for every female child is adopted and promoted at a National level. It certainly does not appear to be the case right with Pakistan estimated to have close to 25,000 ghost schools.
Pakistan needs to stop living in denial and stop waiting for outrageous events like the public flogging of a woman or an assassination attempt of a 14 year old by the Taliban to realize how grave this threat it. Pakistan and its government need to endorse the idea that the Taliban were in fact scared of Malala’s ideology because perhaps that way we can give it the importance it deserves and work towards saving its future generations from all kinds of extremism whether religious or cultural. The outrage this attack has created is nearest to the one I witnessed when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It is interesting that when Malala expressed her desire to be a politician three years ago she cited Benazir as her inspiration. The Pakistani people need to channel this outrage in forcing the government to shift its focus to developing educational and health facilities in the country rather than spend millions of dollars in expanding its nuclear arsenal.
It would be indeed criminal on Pakistan’s part if the only people who realize the worth of Malala’s ideals are international pop stars and foreign heads of state.