By Chris Cork
April 13, 2017
Malala Yousufzai was in the news again this week, this time for being appointed by UN secretary general Antonio Guterres as a UN messenger of peace. Her duties are as yet indeterminate. The appointment is the latest in a string of awards, including a Nobel peace prize in 2014 when she was 17. The event was covered in the Pakistan media but quickly disappeared from the headlines. Malala is shortly to receive honourary Canadian citizenship in a ceremony that will bring together two of the most recognised faces in the world today — herself and Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau — and her public life of celebrity and permanently enhanced security moves forward.
A lot of people, doubtless some of them competent in the killing business, want her dead. There is no shortage of people in Pakistan who would be happy to see her dead as well, and are not backwards in coming forwards to say so. Others with less murderous desires vilify her at every opportunity — the only time I could find of her photographed wearing Western dress at a public event, a modest business suit and headscarf, the Twitterverse was awash with bile in minutes — and ‘official’ attitudes towards her are coolly ambivalent.
The British are keenly aware of the risks that are out there for her. She has armed protection on her house 24/7 and is going to present something of a nightmare security-wise to whichever university she applies successfully to after she has taken her A-levels. She has expressed a desire to take the almost traditional academic route into politics — a PPE, (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) that has underpinned the careers of many in the political establishment in the UK. Education may be her passion, but it is politics that draws her forward, and politics in Pakistan at that. Diving naked into a river infested with starving alligators may be a better life-choice, and certainly one with a higher chance of survival than the scummy political waters of her homeland.
Fame and a public persona came early to Malala who, let us not forget, did not ask to be shot in the head by the Taliban — and there are those who still believe the whole thing was somehow faked anyway. She was in her early teens and although she had some small fame in Pakistan she cannot have been prepared for what followed when she opened her eyes in a Birmingham hospital. Now, years later and on the cusp of yet another change in her life but in a land that is still strange to her sometimes, what next for this child of our time?
No matter what she may say in public regarding her ambitions to lead her homeland as prime minister, it cannot have escaped her notice that she is unlikely to be widely welcomed and that her survival time may be measured in hours and days, weeks at most, before one of those who would see her dead gets lucky. She has a range of advisers around her who, if they are doing their job properly, will have made it abundantly clear that Pakistan is going to play no part in her future beyond being her country of birth. She and her family yearn in their hearts to return to the Swat Valley, but they probably never will.
Malala and her family have become accidentally wealthy. Western-wealthy not Pakistan wealthy, rich in pounds not just rupees. This in itself is fodder for the haters who are jealous that her bad luck has parlayed into good fortune albeit at dreadful price. They live in some comfort and seclusion. Her friends are carefully vetted, the family rarely makes trips together to the shops or the seaside, though it is reported that her brothers have gained a near-anonymity and invisibility that allow something close to normal life, as does her mother. Her father less so and she never, no matter how long she lives, will ever be truly safe anywhere in the world. A lifetime of looking over her shoulder is before her. Her time as a National Treasure in Pakistan lasted roughly until she was discharged from hospital, at which point it became downhill all the way. Dead woman walking.