By Najam Sethi
17 Oct 2014
Malala Yousafzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize because she is a brave girl. Of course she is. But there are millions of brave girls in Pakistan. Malala Yousufzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize because she is a crusader for the rights of children to be educated. Of course she is. But there are scores of teachers and educators who have dedicated their lives to such a cause. Malala Yousufzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize because she stood up to the Taliban and put herself in harm’s way. Of course she did. But there are thousands – soldiers, political workers, journalists, tribals – who have sacrificed their lives resisting the Taliban.
Malala Yousufzai is spirited, courageous and eloquent. She speaks for civilization’s finest human rights and freedoms. But she is a global heroine because she is a unique symbol of the resistance of the innocent and non-violent to the barbaric terrorism that stalks the world. That is why her heroes are Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi – global icons of peace, truth, resistance and reconciliation. How did she become such a unique symbol?
Some Muslims argue that the Western powers have elevated her to this status as a “pawn” in their new crusades against Islam. But this line of thinking forgets that it is the Taliban and not the West who “created” her as such a symbol. It is the Taliban who first recognized Malala as a powerful symbol of resistance to their bloody crusades against education, human rights and freedom. They warned her to desist from preaching and practicing children’s right to education. She knew the consequences of defiance. Yet she refused to heed their warning. When the Pakistani media began to lionize her, the Taliban tried to kill her. Now they say they will target her if she returns to Pakistan.
Some Muslims ask why dozens of innocent children who were orphaned by American drones in FATA were not similarly acknowledged and honoured for their plight. They say this reflects the political ideology of Western imperialism in choosing which victim to honour. But this line of thinking forgets that hundreds of innocent children were killed or orphaned by the Taliban all over Pakistan when their bombs went off in schools and market places and mosques and parks and buses. If there was a “conspiracy” to make Malala a national heroine, it should be laid at the door of the Taliban. The West has elevated her to the status of a global heroine because her personal non-violent struggle for the universal human rights of children in Swat against the terrorizing Taliban fits in with the global war of “liberal” democracy with extremist “Islam”. Those who empathize with this cause should celebrate an acknowledgement of Malala’s role in the battle for hearts and minds, regardless of its cynical manipulation by a highly politicized and partisan Western media.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee jointly awarded the medal to the lesser-known Indian child-rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi. The Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, said that it was important “for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in the common struggle for education and against extremism”. The context is relevant.
Mosharraf Zaidi of Alif Ailaan, an organization dedicated to improving education in Pakistan, notes that there are over 25 million Pakistani children between the ages of 5 and 16 who are not attending school. Over 50% of all government schools in the country are without electricity for most of the time, 36 per cent don’t have drinking water and over 40% don’t have working toilets. Federal and provincial governments allocate less than 2% of their annual budgets to education. In India, the situation isn’t much different. Nearly 60 % of children don’t complete primary schooling despite the fact that it is their constitutional right, and 90% don’t complete school.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee also consciously joined a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, in highlighting its concerns and interests. The two nuclear powers have fought four wars since independence and are currently shelling each other across the border. India has just elected a Hindu supremacist as its prime minister who is talking war and not peace with Pakistan, while Pakistan is in the throes of a form of creeping Islamisation in which Pakistanis are wont to rage against all “infidels”, especially Hindus.
Malala Yousufzai is the second Pakistani to win the Nobel. The first was physicist Abdus Salam. It is a tragic irony of Pakistani history that Salam was not acknowledged, much less honoured, by his country because as an Ahmedi, he was considered outside the pale of Islam. Now Malala is fated to live in “Western” exile until the Taliban and their extremist version of Islam are eliminated from the political and cultural landscape of Pakistan. Therefore, regardless of how the West manipulates and manufactures consent and dissent, Pakistanis would do well to look inwards and heal themselves instead of raging against outsiders.