RingSide View : The Malala Narratives

RingSide View : The Malala Narratives

Global politics surrounding the rise of Malala Yousufzai's popularity have clouded the central issue that defined Malala, that is, girls' education ...

Global politics surrounding the rise of Malala Yousufzai's popularity have clouded the central issue that defined Malala, that is, girls' education

Dasu Krishnamoorty


As the sounds of celebration over the discovery of a cult figure to mobilise people for the cause of girls' education trail off, two dissimilar pictures of Malala Yousufzai, the girl the Taliban had shot, and nearly killed, are in circulation: the first, as columnists representing Islamic thought claim, connects the events to real politik and the other is the global icon projected by the western media and diplomacy.

The western version, termed manufactured reality by its critics, prevailed until suddenly it stoked a backlash that doubted everything said and done about Malala. We were told that a Malala was needed to be invented if only to give a shove to girls' education. Critics of the Malala mythology say that no such noble objective was behind the developments that followed the Taliban attack on the hazel-eyed school kid.

mal3Until an alternative picture of the reality swung into view the world feasted itself on stories eulogising Malala as one who had fought an epic battle for girls' education. From those narratives we could glean a bewildering catalogue of adulation: Three-million-dollar book contract; a BBC invitation to write a blog for them; Pakistan's National Youth Peace prize; Nobel peace prize nomination etc. Everyone from prime ministers to presidents to media brass welcomed the emergence of a new metaphor for girl power. Madonna dedicated a song and had Malala's name painted on her back.

A synopsis of western accounts of what happened ran like this: The Wazirstan region, which includes the Swat valley of which Malala's town Mingora is a part, is a stronghold of the Taliban who banned girls' education. Malala was 11 years old when she began writing a diary for the BBC opposing the Taliban ban. The militants had also destroyed 700 schools in the years before she began her diary.

Gradually her struggle to liberate girls' education from the Taliban embargo attracted world attention and acclaim and awards followed. The Taliban, realizing what a threat she was to their version of the Islamic way of life, marked her for elimination. The denouement came on 9 October last year when the Taliban men entered a bus that was taking her home and shot her in the head. What followed were, the west claims, humanitarian acts, the rescue, hospitalisation and re-schooling of the girl

The Islamist sector offered three different theories: 1. The US wanted to erase from public memory the history of Drone attacks and the heavy loss of human life that followed. 2. They wanted to highlight the inadequacies of Islamic way of life by symbolising Malala as its victim. 3. Another was to keep the war against the Taliban going because US economy is closely linked to the manufacture and sale of arms.

A columnist for online magazine Crescent and director of the Institute of Islamic Thought in Canada Zafar Bangash was among the first to raise doubts about the motives behind the Malala build-up. He said the west never reported attacks on scores of girls other than Malala in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What about the two other girls who were injured in the same attack that badly injured Malala, he asked.

According to him the US knew that the attention the west paid to Malala would provoke the Taliban to eliminate her and such an act could be a pretext to force Pakistan to increase its military presence in North Wazirstan. That would reduce the American army's burden of policing the turbulent area. But Bangash doesn't tell us what compelled Gordon Brown, Angelina Jolie, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Desmond Tutu and others to advance the US plan. It stretches credulity to posit that the American foreign policy needs a Malala to achieve its objectives.

Another columnist Matthew Snow, writing in Foreign Policy Journal, attacked the players in the promote Malala campaign as blind to the avoidable risk of death that they had exposed the school-going kid to. The BBC reporter who recruited Malala to blog for them said it was a blunder to have dropped the kid's pseudonym from the diary at the insistence of an ambitious father who wanted his daughter to be nominated for an international children's peace award. That omission offered her as a target to the Taliban.

According to other accounts the diary Malala was writing for the BBC was a hoax. Snow writes about Mirza Waheed of Guardian saying that Malala merely met the BBC reporter every evening and passed on hand-written diary pages to him. Later Waheed edited them.

The diary in reality was not written by Malala but manufactured by the BBC staff, according to Snow. Both the western and Islamic stories have fissures. The west has failed to explain the unprecedented global adulation that followed the attack on Malala and why she alone deserved its attention and not the other two girls who were hurt in the same incident. One columnist thought it looked as if Barak Obama and Ban Ki-moon were waiting for the attack to happen and to read out their lines. The Islamists offered no convincing reason for the US to stage such an elaborate drama to provoke the Taliban to intensify its operations so that it could raise its level of intervention in the Taliban territory.

Global politics have clouded the central issue that defined Malala, that is, girls' education. What prevents the Rip van Winkles of the Indian administration from waking up to the centrality of girls' education to building a knowledge society? Today there are over 200 million illiterate women in the country. Studies show that illiterate women have high levels of maternal mortality, poor nutritional status, low earning potential and little voice within the household. The country urgently needs a Malala wave to force the government to help every girl wanting to go to school realise her dream.

Malala Yousafzai, emerged as a global icon for women's rights after being shot at by Taliban for advocating girl's education in Pakistan. She will give her first public speech in New York, organised by UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown along with the President of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, on her 16th birthday, July 12, a day that would now be marked as 'Malala Day'
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