By Murtaza Haider
07 Nov 2014
Millions around the world rejoiced when Malala Yousafzai won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize; the youngest person ever to receive this honour. It was not enough to win over many in her homeland who see Malala as merely a pawn being used to malign Pakistan’s ‘good’ name.
Even when one takes Malala out of the equation, one cannot ignore that Pakistan has failed to protect its children and secure their future. This fact is lost on those who criticize Malala. They think her campaign to educate the children is shaming the nation. Her adversaries are dead wrong. We must challenge their distorted narratives to prevent them from diverting the attention from the real crisis: Pakistan’s failure to educate its children.
The Urdu language news media in Pakistan have showcased several who criticize what Malala stands for and has achieved. In op-eds and television appearances, they question the motives of those who have nominated and awarded her the Nobel Peace Prize. They wonder why Malala accepted the same peace award that recognized others who have been instrumental in waging wars. Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama come to mind.
It is true, at least retrospectively, that not every recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize has been equally deserving. However, the dedication to peace and justice of numerous other recipients is beyond dispute. I think of Dr. Muhammad Yunus (2006), Nelson Mandela (1993), and Dr Martin Luther King Jr (1964) when I think of the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, I will think of Malala.
Her critics, however, are holding Malala guilty by association. Malala cannot be faulted for the wrongs others may have committed. She is also not the first South Asian or a Muslim to accept an honour from the West. Pakistan’s founding fathers have done the same. In 1922, King George V knighted Sir Dr Mohammad Iqbal, and not Mehmed VI, the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Dr Iqbal studied on a scholarship at the Trinity College of the University of Cambridge and later earned a doctorate at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Why do Malala’s detractors praise Dr Iqbal, who also wrote Shikwa, but they detest Malala.
Some critics in Pakistan have tried to disparage the Nobel Peace Prize by referring to the French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, who refused to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is important that one understands the circumstances and the reasons for which Mr Sartre refused the Prize. Exactly fifty years ago (October 22, 1964), Mr Sartre explained his reasons in a statement. Mr Sartre, in fact, regretted the scandal that resulted from his refusal and believed that it happened because he “was not informed soon enough of what was under way.” He further wrote: “My reasons for refusing the prize concern neither the Swedish Academy nor the Nobel Prize in itself.”
Mr Sartre explained that he on principle refused all official honours and suggested that even being a socialist; he would have rejected the Lenin Prize if it were ever offered. He was concerned that had he accepted the prize, his activism would have dragged the Nobel Prize as an institution into his struggles.
While Mr Sartre was truthful and deeply mindful of his reasons to refuse the honour, the same cannot be said of those who accuse Malala.
Malala has also been subjected to undue criticism for her book, which she co-authored with Christina Lamb. She has been accused of defending Salman Rushdie. This is utterly fallacious. Malala in her book recounts a debate at the Jahanzeb College in Swat in which her father, (Ziauddin Yousafzai), participated. She is recounting details of an event that took place before her birth. Her account is most likely that of her father’s, who spoke at the debate where he defended his strong belief and questioned, “Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not my Islam!”
Her critics are peeved at Malala’s statement that the life for women during General Zia’s rule was severely restricted. They point out that Zia’s was the golden era of women’s accomplishment in Pakistan where great playwrights produced famous TV plays. What a surprising take on Pakistan’s recent past!
It was General Zia’s regime that discounted women’s testimony in the court. It was the dark days of Zia’s rule when a teenaged blind girl was convicted of adultery because she could not produce at least four men who could have witnessed her rape.
They are furious with Malala because she has exposed the social ills in her book. Many believe that she should have kept a lid on these festering social sores. Do Americans teach the young of the injustices done to the aboriginals, they ask. The answer, in fact, is yes. Children in the US and Canada are told of the historic injustice done to the aboriginals. Not only that the school curriculums reflect these accounts, the aboriginal culture is celebrated at schools, colleges, and universities.
At Ryerson University, where I teach, university ceremonies and events are blessed with native rituals and customs. The Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, recognizes in her speeches the specific aboriginal tribes who have lived, and continue to live, in Ontario.
In Canada, we do not lie to our children.
Some have even hatched conspiracy theories about why Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. They are dreaming up grand conspiracies about how the West will use her celebrity to malign Pakistan. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A Toronto-based author, Tarek Fatah, voluntarily launched a movement for Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize in October 2012. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and leaders of the other three parties in the Canadian Parliament, jointly endorsed her nomination.
While Malala was not the recipient in 2013, the seeds for her 2014 Peace Prize were indeed sown in Toronto. Soon she will receive the honorary Canadian citizenship and become only the sixth person ever to receive this distinction. She joins the ranks of Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Prince Karim Agha Khan.
The day after she was shot in 2012, I wrote in a Pakistan newspaper about her courage and wisdom beyond her years. The assailant boarded the van and asked the driver, “Malala Yousafzai sok da” (Who is Malala Yousafzai?). Seeing the vitriol against her today, I again feel the need to restate her credentials.
“Let me answer this question for anyone who wants to know. Malala is what Taliban will never be. She is fearless, enlightened, articulate, and a young Muslim woman who is the face of Pakistan and the hope for a faltering nation that can no longer protect its daughters.”
I can only pray: Let a thousand Malalas bloom.