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Opinion

April 5, 2018

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Dimensions of hatred

This week while Malala Yousafzai and her family were in Pakistan, visiting five years after she had left the country close to death on a stretcher, a furious debate raged all over social media.

From her character to her possible status as a traitor, and her services, or disservices, to her homeland, everything has been questioned. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, known in his native village of Mingora as a quiet but dedicated social worker who stood for progressive causes, has been maligned even more harshly.

Debates, of course, take place on certain social media sites; on others, it is only blind hatred for Malala. There is no one to put forward even a weak counter-narrative as abuse pours in, some of it in the most vile language. The bizarre decision by the All-Pakistan Private Schools Federation to force thousands of students in Lahore and other parts of the country to observe March 30 as ‘I Am Not Malala Day’ – attempting to drive hate for a girl who has since the age of 11 fought for the right to education for girls and all children – simply adds to the many questions that come to mind about the mob behaviour we are witnessing in our country.

What drives it? What persuades people, some of them evidently quite rational in other spheres of life, to direct such invective against a girl barely out of her teens? Is it jealousy? Is it truly a belief that Malala’s ordeal is a conspiracy? Is the anger over the ‘negative’ image of Pakistan that she apparently portrays genuine? Or is it something more sinister? Have we come over the years to truly believe in even the most absurd conspiracy theories and imagine that the whole world considers Pakistan important enough to launch massive conspiracies against it? Do they really believe that Ziauddin Yousafzai, a man who is known to have quietly paid for the treatments of deprived patients in hospitals in Swat, and offered meals to hungry children, had his daughter shot in the head, causing her permanent damage? Do they believe doctors in the UK put up a long charade when they released clips of Malala in hospital and of her undergoing physiotherapy in the months of her slow, painful recovery?

It appears that a large number of people truly do believe all this. They also ask what Malala has done for her country, and suggest that the whole episode has been used to accumulate money and possibly misuse it. The facts are straightforward, and have been put out for the public by the Malala Fund and others. The fund has paid for a girls’ school to be built in Shangla and has put in $7 million for various schools and educational projects in Pakistan in 2014; more has been donated to repair schools damaged by the Taliban and help has been provided to enrol child labourers in schools.

In an effort to suggest that Malala ran from the hardships of her country rather than facing them like other children, who her critics declare are far braver and deserve more recognition, multiple examples are given of the Army Public School attack’s victims. It is pointed out that these young boys went back to the school they had been shot at. This is indeed true; the tragedy of APS should never be forgotten. But there is also another truth, a logical one. In the first place, the boys at APS were shot simply because they happened to be at a particular place and not because of their activism or the pursuit of other causes. This is quite different to Malala’s story, who the Taliban themselves say was targeted as an individual because she followed a ‘pro-West’ agenda.

Malala began writing an anonymous blog for the BBC when she was 11 years old. She described the lives of girls in Swat under the Taliban rule and has been an activist since then, along with her father. She spoke out bravely against the Taliban in a situation where few had the courage to do so. Moreover, even as pictures of APS victims, including of Waleed Khan who was shot multiple times in the face, were posted on Facebook and other forums, stating how Waleed went back to school unlike Malala, the full truth is less known. Malala’s family personally supported and offered financial assistance to APS victims to help them acquire medical treatment in the UK, undergo trauma counselling, and in some cases study there.

Supported by the Pakistan Army, Waleed today studies in Birmingham and is cared after by the Yousafzai family. The families of these unfortunate children themselves see Malala and her father as heroes, not villains who have somehow let them down or ignored them in the quest for their personal fame and glory. And sensibly enough, Waleed was sent abroad to help him overcome injury and trauma. There is nothing objectionable in this.

It is also interesting to read the small messages and posts of people, especially girls, from Swat and Malala’s home district of Shangla. These children, and in many cases their teachers, do not appear to see Malala as a Western agent or someone seeking self-publicity in order to acquire money illicitly. Instead, they hail her as someone they admire and love. Young schoolboys in Shangla have offered musical tributes to her at school assemblies in their tiny mountainous schools, and girls have written letters suggesting how much she has done to give them strength and inspire them to continue their education, no matter how great the odds are.

We then have the question of Pakistan’s image being damaged. Surely, to build this image, the best way forward would be to more actively promote education in a country where less than 40 percent of women are literate and the majority of girls enrolled in schools drop out before they reach class five. This is not something that damages the West, it hurts us and our country. Malala has not created this situation, she has not been the force that pulls girls out of schools. She is trying to put them back in school. What we can do to paint a better picture of Pakistan is to join her campaign. At the same time, we also need to learn to speak the truth about our country, including its ills, in order to come over them. If we do not face these truths, we will never be able to solve our problems.

It is true that much good exists in Pakistan and that needs to be acknowledged, but Malala as a global figure stands tall among the people who have helped show the real Pakistan to the rest of the world, by travelling to her home in the beautiful Swat valley during her recent trip, and by projecting Pakistan in a positive light every time she could. She has spoken about the beautiful poetry written in Pashto, about the music of Rahat Fateh Ali and other maestros in the country, and introduced so much else about Pakistan to the world. Her schoolteachers in Birmingham speak of how she changed the image of her country in the eyes of other pupils. No doubt, the confident Malala we see today will continue to do the same through her years at Oxford University and on into the rest of her life.

It is hard to see then why she is hated. Malala, of course, did not deprive the amazingly dedicated Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi of a Nobel Prize. There are many questions that can be asked of the Nobel committee about the prizes they award. Malala Yousafzai, however, is not responsible for their choices. She has, at the age of only 20, quietly led a drive for educating the world. The support she has received from her father should be an example for every parent. This is something we simply need to accept. We need to rise against the revulsion that has swept across the country and create a nation that acknowledges its heroes rather than pulls them down.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]

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