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December 17, 2015



Down with Malala?


Zubair Torwali

It was a young crowd, in the thousands. These college students were thrilled at each song the organisers played. Their happiness came through in shouts and whistles.

This was at a ceremony held by a Swat-based youth organisation hailing persons with noted achievements ‘nationwide’.

This time the event was more a concert than an award-giving ceremony. Some of the famous women Pashto singers performed. A few Swat-based Pashto singers also performed well.

Despite everything, such events everywhere, especially in the entertainment-starved Swat valley, are laudable. This was the second event held by the youth at the historic Wadudia Hall opposite to the ‘once-prestigious’ Jahanzeb College in Saidu Sharif, Swat.

Of all the significant things at the event two video messages from youth leaders were notable. Among these messages one was given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Malala, because of whom Swat is now better known the world over, has made education for girls her sole mission. In the video message she talked about Swat and tried to motivate her peers to study because she thinks education is the bulwark against all odds.

For me it was interesting to observe the reaction of the crowd at the appearance of Malala. As expected the crowd, especially the youth, appreciated the message delivered by a German lady but when Malala’s video appeared on the screen the youth began to scream in Pashto ‘larey ka’ (remove her). They also shouted ‘chee chee’, an expression of disgust, at her.

The adults and the elderly, however, were not moved. They neither expressed delight nor disgust. They looked confused – as the majority in Pakistan is. When the message ended there was no applause. Notwithstanding the reaction, the organisers of the event played the message by Malala; and this was their courage.

I have my own perspective about Malala accepting the Nobel Prize. But I have no doubt over the ingenuity of what Malala had done prior to the deadly attack on her life in October 2012.

Similarly, the conspiracy theories around Malala have no substance in them. It is quite simple. She dared to speak to the media on what was going in Swat in a time when nobody dared to say a single word. She narrated her day-to-day stories in a form of a diary on the BBC Urdu website. She dared to speak to the international media when men like me used to avoid their cameras because of the vulnerability of families, and a convoluted response by state and society against the insurgency in our valley.

There might be other people who had spoken up that time in Swat; and they may complain of not having been duly acknowledged by the media or the government. But a teenage girl speaking up in a society like ours, during a time of militancy and extremism – has a different impact both on the media and on the civil society. This is the reason that after Malala, the girls and women of Swat and the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are awarded by various foreign governments and organisations for their activism even though their work might not be too significant on the ground. This is because of our bad social image internationally.

It must indeed hurt a lot when those very people that you think you serve end up hating you. The irony is that these same people would make you not only a hero but insignia symbol of pride when you are dead. Muslim philosophers, scientists and logicians of the medieval age are now the crown jewels of our academia, Islamic political parties and schools but in their lifetime all were seen as heretics or apostates by the predecessors of these same people.

Today many scholars who not only represent but also vigorously defend Muslims internationally, by holding world superpowers accountable, are mostly regarded as infidels and bad Muslims back in their home countries.

Had Malala, God forbid, not survived the attack she would have been a hero for all Swatis. She not only survived it but also became an icon of resistance the world over; and that is why we now despise her.

Back to the youth event. When I observed these young people shouting at Malala I wondered about how and why they had developed this attitude. I recalled my teenage and college days when our teachers claimed to know everything and tried to instil their biases into our young minds.

Hence the education that Malala fights for the world over needs to encourage independent thinking rather than toeing the lines drawn by polarised and biased teachers.

The writer heads IBT, an independentorganisation dealing with education and
development in Swat. Email: [email protected]