By Zeeba T Hashmi
February 12, 2016
Once again, Malala has been considered a traitor by conspiracy theorists on social media. This time, the propaganda against her reached a widely watched television channel, where single viewed criticism of her book I am Malala fell short of a merited and scholastic discussion on her views that deserve to be given enough public time and space. Unfortunately, because of the atmosphere created by her opponents, the space for having open discussions and alternate views has shrunk considerably, allowing only for right wing and jingoistic discourse to fill this intellectual vacuum. Anyone speaking his or her independent mind, which is considered to even remotely challenge predominant national ideologies, is deemed treasonous.
In November last year, the president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, Mirza Kashif Ali, launched his book titled I Am Not Malala, I Am A Muslim, I Am A Pakistani, which is a rebuttal of Malala Yousafzai’s autobiographical account I am Malala. For a person having to express his or her views by professing one’s religious and national identity makes little sense, unless done so with the intention of intimidating or undermining the other person for having dissenting views.
If it really has to come down to labels, then perhaps the biggest critics of the state are more genuine patriots than those who refuse to accept facts under the garb of nationalism. The book authored by Kashif Mirza is perhaps the mere reflection of a profound anti-Malala campaign that was started off by a political religious party, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), even before her book came out.
A strong social media campaign was unleashed against her, stating that the whole incident of her getting shot was a staged drama. The main objection presented by her opponents is that there are other children who have suffered more than her but they have never been mentioned in the media at all. Little has it ever been mentioned by them that Malala was known as an educational activist even before she got shot by the Taliban. She had been relating to the BBC her account as a girl student stuck in the middle of Taliban rule in Mingora city, and was already recognised internationally for being vocal against the Taliban from a very tender age.
Her presence in the media is perhaps what got her the world’s attention when she was shot, an issue that otherwise would have gone unnoticed as well if she was not known. It is our sorry state of affairs that there was no recognition to the fallen students before Malala simply because nobody cared much about the suffering of children at the hands of the militants before. In fact, it is only because of Malala that the issue was raised when she became an international symbol of one student’s resilience against terrorism.
One of the assumptions that she is anti-Pakistan is made from her expressed distrust of the army for facilitating the Taliban, which ultimately led to the Taliban takeover of Swat. How she has come to such a view is not surprising, as many like her have pointed out before that militancy in fact had the support of some elements in the army, thus her claims are not completely unfounded nor are they unique coming from someone who has suffered war and has developed resentment against the institution that was primarily supposed to protect and defend the people. If it is something that makes her anti-Pakistan, then she would never have expressed her desire to return home and take part in politics here.
On the talk show that was aired recently on a prominent news channel, one of the main objections raised against her was the use of word “militant Islam” in her book. The limited view of the said television anchor on Islamic militancy, a real global challenge, is simply deplorable as it implies that he is outright denying the prevalent menace of the Taliban who make use of militancy for the spread of their version of Islam. Kashif Mirza Ali, the guest on this talk show, objected to Malala raising concerns over dictator Ziaul Haq’s introduction of Islamic laws on blasphemy and rape witnesses. This again does not merit Malala being anti-Islam. In fact, the controversial Islamic laws have long remained under scrutiny and criticism by some Muslim scholars themselves.
On the same programme, Malala was heavily ridiculed for defending Salman Rushdie, an ex-Muslim who received a fatwa from clerics for authoring his controversial book The Satanic Verses. What was more disturbing on the show was that the claim by Kashif Mirza on how Malala has about $ 68 billion in her account was presented as fact. A misleading and biased show of this kind sets dangerous precedents in society as it is responsible for forming public opinions on a massive level. We must not forget how Salmaan Taseer was conveniently labelled a blasphemer on live television, which played a huge part in his assassination by a religious fanatic. We must also not forget how a popular religious talk show called Ahmedis Wajib ul Qatl (worthy of being killed on religious grounds), which led to the murder of four people belonging to that sect the following day. Often have we witnessed the media behaving irresponsibly and yet nothing has ever been done to regulate it by our authorities.
This is not to say that freedom of expression should be undermined but there is an urgent need to differentiate between freedom of expression and speech inciting violence. What Malala has stated in her book may be critiqued but not in the way where personal bias takes precedence over objectivity because it will only make a victim more vulnerable to raised sentiments and, perhaps, more violence. Intimidating a voice by making use of a nefarious campaign against it will only serve the purpose of the militants here to annihilate reason and national ownership of our problems. Unfortunately, many here do not realise who they are actually supporting by being anti-Malala.