Who’s Afraid of Malala Yousufzai?

The Taliban in Pakistan tried to assassinate now 16-year-old Malala Yousufzai last year while she was riding the bus to school. Although severely wounded (she was shot in the head) Malala recovered with a clean bill of health and has become an international symbol of the fight for female education. The whole word has come to know her story: her blog writing for the BBC at the age of 11, her father’s work against the Taliban, the Taliban’s threats for Malala to stop talking out against them and, when she didn’t, their assassination attempt. The Taliban’s anger, although abominable and unjustified, is clear. What isn’t is why the rest of the world has a bone to pick with this remarkable girl.

There seems to be a growing number of  people, particularly Muslim women- who are speaking out against Malala Yousufzai. Oddly enough, the Huffington Post UK has given them a platform from which to spout their dislike and-dare I say-hate. They’re happy she didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. They think she’s egotistical. Most importantly, they believe she is a Western puppet being used by America et al. to promote a neoliberal agenda and justify the use of drones in Pakistan. There are even conspiracy theories who claim she never got shot.

Malala Yousafzai with classmates Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, sourced from The Mirror UK

I cannot understand why any woman would be against Malala Yousufzai. Malala believed in girl education before she was ever attacked; she criticized the Taliban before they ever shot her. Since being taken under the West’s wing she has in fact criticized the US drone attacks, calling for a cease-fire.

Are these women unhappy because, drones aside, her goals align with US goals? Are they unhappy that the West is championing her cause?

Of course, not all the Muslims out there hate Malala; Tehmina Kazi of  British Muslims for Secular Democracy wrote a lovely piece in aforementioned HuffPost Uk defending the girl. But her defense gets muted when one reads the sickening diatribes of writers like Sofia Ahmed, who mentioned her own queasy feeling of watching white men in suits applaud Malala. If they were black men would it be ok? Hispanic? Of Asian persuasion? Sofia writes that it shows the West’s double-standard, when we continue to conduct our campaign against terrorism which leads to the deaths of innocent girls. I don’t condone America’s methods of combat. But our drone attacks are meant to combat the very men who prevent girls like Malala from seeking an education and choosing how to live their own lives. Applauding Malala and using drones are not mutually exclusive, but you can’t compare the two.

Ahmed insists that things are not better for women in Afghanistan and the Middle East since the West began its “feminist crusade.” Maybe this is true in some cases, but I think it is unfair to link every well-intentioned human rights NGO with the US government; I also ask, where are the coalition groups of women supporting change in these countries? Writer Assed Baig calls this the “white savior complex:” the (white) West swooped in and airlifted her to a land of safety (the UK) where no savage brown men (The Taliban) could hurt her. Well, why didn’t anyone else step in and offer to fund her treatment?

Malala is a Muslim woman standing up for an issue that affects many women, including Muslim women, worldwide, particularly girls and women in Pakistan. Why wouldn’t the West support her? Why wouldn’t everyone, Taliban and sexists aside, support her? Well, apparently the Muslim world is not standing in solidarity, if these educated female writers are any indication. Pakistan originally stood up in vigil in the aftermath of her attack, but a Reuters article is insisting that she is now despised in her hometown for being a “drama queen.”  A female student at the school she used to attend hit one highly plausible reason for possible Pakistani recalcitrance on supporting Malala: people are afraid they will be targeted if they openly support her.

Malala of course insists that Pakistan is with her in her cause, and in a BBC interview she reiterated that she is not a Western puppet with an excellent response, arguing that “My father says that education is neither Eastern or Western. Education is education: it’s the right of everyone.”

Zahid Khan, head of the Swat Peace Jirga, touched upon the only “problem” I have with the whole Malala phenomenon. He complained that, as an anti-Taliban activist, he has survived 3 assassination attempts and has never received any honor or compensation. Malala received worldwide attention likely because her father is a well-known anti-Taliban activist and because of her ties to the BBC. If she had just been an ordinary schoolgirl we probably wouldn’t have heard about her. After all, schoolgirls are sadly all-too-often victims of sexism and yet we do not hear about their plight. Take her schoolgirl friends who were also shot: do we remember their names? Grant you, they were not activists [at the time] but they are now. So why does only Malala matter? It’s the same as when a minor incident happens to a famous figure or celebrity (or to Western peoples) and it becomes front-page news, but the same thing happens every day to ordinary (and non-Western) peoples and we never hear about it.

Malala Yousafzai receives an Honorary degree from Edinburgh University

Writer  Kunwar Khuldune Shahid gave us a male perspective on Malala which is disturbing but certainly echoes another reason why people (particularly Pakistani males) are put-off by this little girl. He asks us to consider Malala as a villain who sides with Pakistan’s “greatest enemy,” the United States. He argues that it is a too-bitter pill to swallow that a young girl can “single handedly orchestrate a global rude awakening,” when Pakistani males are generally taught to be discriminatory and misogynistic against females. Oh, what a “painful” realization!

Malala Yousufzai turns his world “upside down,” because she stands against everything he has been taught. Hating her is easier. She’s not nationalistic or Islamically driven (so I guess that desire to be a political leader in Pakistan as she told one reporter was all fluff, eh?), so obviously that means Pakistanis have to hate her. God forbid you think about anything earthly, that might smack of another culture!

Shahid’s rant is important because he is talking not only from a male perspective but a Muslim male perspective. It gets at the heart of why it is hard for Malala’s critics, both male and female, to accept her. She is literally “dining with the enemy” that children in Pakistan and the Middle Eastern have often been brought up to hate, especially since 9/11 and America’s disastrous foreign policy. Rather than acknowledge that some good is happening, female critics would rather point out the West’s 99 other problems. That isn’t helping.

 I stand for women and girls’ rights. I stand for education as the tool to change the world. Malala may have gotten a leg up, but she’s using her position for the betterment of everyone. She’s doing what she was meant to do. She’s melding Pakistani and Western values, and I think that’s what is making people nervous, but this way of thinking is the way of the future in our international society. I stand with Malala Yousufzai.





http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sofia-ahmed/malala-yousafzai_b_3650973.htmlBEING 25 July 2013. Sofia Ahmed.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/assed-baig/malala-yousafzai-white-saviour_b_3592165.html 13 July 2013. Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tehmina-kazi/malala-yousafza-defending-her_b_3623514.html 22 July 2013. Tehmina Kazi.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/malala-yousafzai-reunited-school-friends-2469367 by Jessica Best, 19 October 2013.

http://www.viewpointonline.net/why-i-hate-malala.html par Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/11/us-pakistan-malala-idUSBRE99A07P20131011 By Mehreen Zahra-Malik 11 October 2013. Mingora Pakistan.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/9/83901/World/International/Malala-says-shes-no-Western-puppet.aspx “Malala says she’s no Western Puppet” via AFP 13 October 2013



One thought on “Who’s Afraid of Malala Yousufzai?

  1. You are so very right. I’m so glad you wrote this and I will be writing something, too. I have received notes from other Pakistani friends telling me that this young girl was not shot, etc., and that she is not even Pakistani! What a pity. She is a treasure and women world-wide should APPLAUD her and SUPPORT HER! I am always amazed that I receive more attacks from women than men (when I tell the stories of brave women.) What’s that about? As women, we should support each other!

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