Malala came back, and so did her haters. Scanning through any Facebook post on Malala’s injury or achievements, one could see the irreverent ‘laugh’ or ‘angry’ emoticons taking over the ‘like’, ‘sad’ or ‘love’ emoticons. A cursory glance at the profiles of this lot revealed quite a diversified group when it came to appearances.
What united them, however, was their penchant for coming up with ridiculous conspiracy theories to discredit Malala. While they have failed on every account, the only success they have had so far is to disprove Malala’s faith in education as the cure for hate and intolerance. On that front, the educated among this lot disprove Malala with their mere existence.
This hate for Malala lies in our pre-APS narrative on terrorism, where the Taliban were portrayed as ‘our people’ fighting us because we were a part of ‘Amreeka ki jung’ (US’s war on terror). These were the days when Imran Khan would assure us that the Taliban would disarm as soon as we disassociated ourselves from that war. Similarly, Shahbaz Sharif was reminding the TTP of common foes and, in doing so, making a case for them to spare Punjab. The only solution proposed by this lot was to conduct ‘muzakrat’ (negotiations) with the Taliban.
The attack on Malala challenged the narrative of this muzakrat group of political parties. A helpless 15-year-old girl was shot point blank and the TTP was proudly taking the responsibility for it. She was not attacked because she supported drones nor was she a politician allied with the US. All she wanted was an education. In that, she was the dream child of every parent across Pakistan. Introspection at the national level would have been a natural consequence, probably resulting in calls for a reprisal against the TTP. But then the negotiations narrative was at stake and that was to be the vote-winner for the 2013 elections. And out came its defenders with conspiracy theories and slander campaigns.
We have come a long way since those days. Ever since the group of parties that wanted negotiations won the 2013 elections, Malala has been vindicated over and over again. She was vindicated when the PML-N, PTI, JI and JUI-F, agreed to launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb against the TTP. Malala’s 2011 insistence on the need to punish Fazlullah was a timely warning, well ahead of Fazlullah’s massacre of the APS children in 2014. Malala’s 2011 plea against the high-handedness in the Swat operation is presently being echoed by thousands in Fata. Today, most Malala-haters would agree with what she stood up for in 2011. Yet, their selective amnesia compels them to still call her a drama and question her achievements.
To understand Malala’s achievements, one has to understand the concept of ‘common good’. The term refers to interests that are shared by everyone in society, whether it is the freedom of speech, religion or, for that matter, the freedom to acquire an education. It is the adhesive that holds society together, as these common interests represent overlapping incentives. A contribution to the common good could be volunteering to clean up areas of one’s city, or in the case of Malala, taking a bullet for one’s right to be educated.
If you are someone who thinks that education is a waste of time, then you are absolutely right about Malala; she has not contributed much. If you are a parent who thinks that education is important for your children, imagine how much their education means to you. What would you do if a band of armed thugs stopped your children from going to school? Would you encourage them to speak openly for their rights at the risk of their lives? Would you have the courage to speak up?
If you were an adult Pakistani back in 2012, it is very likely that you chose to remain silent, mostly because of fear. There is no shame in admitting that, but then it is shameful to not recognise the courage shown by Malala and her parents when they chose to speak out against the menace that the Taliban had become in Swat. They did not do this only for themselves, as they too had the option of remaining silent like the rest. Instead, Malala, backed by her parents, took a bullet for the common good. She took a bullet so that young girls were not forced to stop pursuing their education. Malala took a bullet to highlight the danger that children like Waleed Khan faced for their ‘crime’ of going to school.
We recognise and appreciate displays of courage, especially when done for the common good. Malala’s global recognition was not for her intelligence or the severity of her injury, but for her bravery. It is indeed bewildering that many of those who, back then, didn’t even let out a whimper out of fear of the Taliban, now fail to understand what makes Malala special.
Malala-haters need to resolve their internal contradictions. A prerequisite for mourning the APS massacre would be apologising to Malala. That is because her ‘drama’ warned us about the dangers the likes of Fazlullah posed. The TTP claimed responsibility for not only the APS massacre but also the attack on Malala. Do Malala-haters imply that both those incidents were ‘dramas’? That would be one way to resolve the problem of inconsistency here. The other would be to accept the fact that those were attacks on our children – children who paid the price for the follies and fearfulness of their elders.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
He blogs at iopyne.wordpress.com