Sunday, 14 July 2013

Malala Complex

As an educationalist, it is natural that I should support Malala Yousafzai's right to have an education. This is further reinforced by our common Pashtun heritage. She is also from Swat, so this resonates even deeper. I am genuinely proud to see her stand on a world platform - at the UN General Assembly in New York - and confidently address an international audience. My first reaction? Very impressed. She is one of us and her campaign is a morally justified one. She is a Pashtana. She is a Swati. She is still only young (having turned 16 on July 12th). She is a survivor of one of the most horrendous crimes to have occurred in recent times. She is truly inspirational when it comes to a positive Pashtun image on the international platform. I support this wholeheartedly. Malala is so right when she says: "One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education First."

Beyond this, however, it becomes more complex. The doctors and nurses who treated her, are not mentioned and Kainaat and Shazia, who were shot with her have not attracted the same media attention, whilst there are others who are leaching off the 'Malala effect'. The celebs gathering around her, are often simply promoting themselves. Madonna, stripped to her bare skin last year in one of her concerts in solidarity to the girl. The paradox? Malala, like most Pashtanas appears modestly dressed in public. Gordon Brown is not the only politician to have made mileage out of her tragedy. The contradiction? Four years ago, whilst still in Swat, she wanted to be a doctor, not a politician. Sure she was young and politics has a place in bringing about wider change, but it is now much more complex than a case of girl who single handedly took on the Taliban.

As a Pashtun, my first reaction is to want to protect her - not 'smother' her, as could happen in our male-dominated set-up. As an educationalist, I want to take her campaign and make it universal. As an individual, I want her to succeed and grew up to be a contributing member of society. As a political cynic, I wish the politics around her would go away, and this is where I see the difficulty in her campaign. The well-crafted speech that Malala delivered at the UN had many, many merits but the conservative reaction in Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to be part of the challenge. The Taliban still draws sympathy from those who have not benefited from the US presence in Afghanistan and the damaging ripple effect this creates in Pakistan.

They will see personalities - actors, singers, politicians, liberals etc. who will use their own Malala campaigns - as something very alien.  It serves to cloud the cause for universal education - and for the Yousafzai's delegitimizes their position and potentially damage the long-term good. Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala's father, was - in the end - forced to distance her from her own people and take his family out of Swat. They are now in the hands of outsiders; outsiders with their own agendas.

I hope I am wrong and that the education is not entirely lost to the politics because the cause remains noble. 

Read Malala's Speech in Full.

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