There is a lot of fuss regarding Malala Yousafzai since the day she appeared in public eye. An 11 year old student from an average town of Pakistan first appeared on the media as a stalwart promoter of girls’ right to education during a time when a group of Islamic fundamentalists were becoming a dominant socio-political force throughout the country’s northwestern region.
An ordinary dupatta cladded teenage girl, having exquisite eye colors and a permanent delightful smile on her face, was projected to the world with her extraordinary expressions of writing and speech. BBC published a number of her articles under a pseudo name ‘Gul Makai’. She became a celebrity overnight as soon as her true identity was unveiled shortly after. Rapid escalation in the eyes of public, however, had consequences. It did not take long for Taliban hardliners to patent her as an enemy.
People of Pakistan, on the other hand, developed mixed feelings about the young girl basing their assumptions primarily on a handful of misguided apprehensions. Arbitrarily, a propaganda ensued and Malala’s sudden projection was linked to some “conspiracy of the West” against Muslims.
However, prior to jumping to conclusions it is important to comprehend the volatility of those times as Pakistan was yet trying to hold ground amidst the rather prolonged U.S. war against terrorism post 9/11. The war had ignited a socio-political change in the region that even Pakistan could not avoid.
Taliban’s brand of ‘Islamic reign’ was gaining popularity in some factions of the society and their thrill burgeoning. Before deciding Malala’s case it is vital to view the occurrences and events through the lenses of reason, compassion and facts.
Malala was born in a middle-class household of the town of Mingora on the twelfth day of July 1997. Let’s say it was highly unlikely for a girl from the spectacular valley of Swat to become the youngest laureate in history of Nobel accolade. Her socially active educationist father owned a chain of schools in the valley – one of the few that allowed girls – and mother a housewife.
Her father was a staunch advocate of the power of education from early on and he sided with the local societal resistance against irrepressibly growing influence of Taliban in the valley. Perceptibly, Malala took inspiration from her father and grew up to become an advocate of girls’ right to education. Obviously her views contrasted those of the Taliban and a sane voice coming from the valley, which too of a very young girl, soon caught attention of the international media. In her autobiography titled “I am Malala” she writes about how her father influenced her character and that it was his sanity and activism that induced in her the confidence and sanguinity with which she speaks today. Her buoyancy and intrepidness is envied by many across the world and even though she is an inspiration for the young lot, parents pray her fate is not repeated with their children.
A NEGLECTED HERO–PART-II-MALALA YOUSAFZAI
‘Gul Makai’ emerged as an ardent proponent of children’s right to education in Swat during a time when Pakistan was yet on the road to recovery from a protracted wave of terrorism. Islamic hardliners had penetrated parts of the country indiscernibly and certain areas were under direct control of Taliban. Indigenous people had either surrendered or welcomed the interlopers and the journalists were paranoid to express their true selves as Taliban’s discourse was popular among many across the country.
Political elite also seemed influenced by the beacon of terror one way or the other and there were only a few voices to
counter the stimulus. Meanwhile the government was losing grip over certain areas weakening its writ in certain areas of the northwestern province and Balochistan.
Taliban’s imperative was indeed sugarcoated with references from the Holy Qur’an & Hadiths – often misquoted and misinterpreted – while buttressed by the power of gun. With time, the unlawful Taliban regime developed a strong resistance against women’s right to education along with other things. Amidst the moral erosion, Malala’s voice was a ray of light in the growing darkness of insensitivity and ruthlessness.
She swiftly became a symbol of hope for the people who desired regional prosperity and educational opulence. Gul Makai challenged the oppressive Taliban regime along with its legitimacy merely with strokes of her pen notwithstanding the perils it shall bring.
Malala came out courageously against the tyrannical Taliban pretension putting herself in the way of palpable danger. Her speech in Peshawar titled, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right of education!” received epic appreciation from all over the world and paved her way to winning the International Peace Prize in 2011 followed by National Youth Peace Prize the same year.
Before long a death threat was issued in her name by one of the extremists groups, but of course no one actually expected that to be true or serious. She was a teenage girl with only a pen in her hand after all. Sadly, an assassination attempt was made on Malala on October 12, 2012. She was targeted by a gunman and shot at from a point-blank range while riding home from school in a school bus. The petrified soi-disant proprietors of Islam expressed their paranoia of the young girl in form of a spineless attack.
News of the attack was met with great sorrow and revulsion across the globe. Pakistan Army acted efficiently and the 15 year old terror victim was airlifted to Peshawar for further treatment. The pitiless bout had damaged left side of her head leaving a good half of her face partially incapacitated. Luckily there was no major brain injury as the bullet pierced through the skin missing all vital organs.
A portion of her skull was still removed to treat her swelling brain and she was soon taken to Birmingham while in a medically induced coma. She then went through a number of surgical procedures to recover her half-paralyzed face in England. Two other girls injured in the incident were treated locally.
The Pakistani government played a very positive role in saving the young girl’s life and countries such as U.K. acted swiftly to extend crucial support. A group of Taliban, on the other hand, shamelessly accepted responsibility of the heartless attack and dubbed it some sort of a victory.
Sadly, a subdivision of Pakistani population having soft corner for the fraudulent Islamic revolutionaries did not condemn the inhuman violence against a kid. For them Malala could be a Zionist poker chip or perhaps an Ahmadi ragdoll prior to being a human.
Unfortunately, after the attack Malala arose as a controversial figure; thanks to the ignorant lot of the society she hails from. Newspapers printed verminous op-eds destined to prove the episode a “conspiracy of the West” while many believed that the entire occurrence was nothing but a drama choreographed by the Pakistani establishment as of to win legitimacy for crusading against the augmenting ‘Islamic reign’.
Some TV reports even self-investigated the post-attack footages of Malala while trying to prove the incidence a hoax. Reeking minds of Islamic fundamentalists wasted much of their energy in trying to discover Zionist connections of Malala or her father in order to substantiate their viewpoint. Meanwhile nothing stopped Malala from receiving sympathies, love and respect for her fortitude from across the globe.
Months passed by before Malala could resume a normal life. Her parents decided for her to stay in Britain and she was taken in by an English school in March 2013. U.K. government extended full support to the endangered family and provided them safe haven. The attack resulted in a massive outpouring of support for Malala internationally. She found herself addressing the United Nations on her 16th birthday i.e. just nine months after the attack. UN Secretary-General pronounced July 12 – her birthday – ‘Malala Day’ in
honor of the young leader’s activism to promote the cause of education for all. She was awarded the esteemed Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament in October 2013 before receiving Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17 the very next year – becoming the youngest to ever receive one.
She was recognized instantaneously as a staunch advocate of power of education and the world started to see her as a symbol of courage. Her sudden escalation on the world stage, however, was not received well by many including some Pakistanis back home. A group of propagandists activated a campaign against her wherein she was presented as pawn of a Western conspiracy.
Muslims of the Asian subcontinent at large have a tendency of falling for more fundamentalist and radical religious approaches. For example, the less educated Muslim population is prone to misconstrued ideas of jihad and misapprehended concepts of Islamic state and law. Popular history of the region indicates that its people were exploited by foreign invaders time and again owing to their innocence and obliviousness.
Their predisposition subjected them to manipulation and blackmailing by religious clergy as well as foreign interlopers causing them to fight against each other. Political parties using religious rhetoric, in particular, enjoy privilege over minds and emotions of the people even today. Stronger organizational structures of religious parties in Pakistan are often complimented by militant muscles. Hostile forces of the region, unchecked, promote radicalism and thus overpower the opportunity of choice at times. Strategies of the past haunt prospects of the future in some cases. A similar dilemma continued in Gul Makai’s case and people started to believe there is fire in the background.
Today Malala Yousafzai and her family lives in a foreign country. She is a student of Oxford University in England and recognized worldwide as a leading figure for rights to education. Her foundation helps thousands of people across the globe working towards poverty alleviation and promotion of education.
“Malala Fund” – founded by her father in 2013 – works towards ensuring that girls have access to schools and 12 years of free education. A number of schools are being run under the banner & funding of the foundations named after her. Malala Yousafzai, 22, is collaborating with the United Nations to promote girl education as its Messenger of Peace. Also, she is the sixth and the youngest person to receive honorary citizenship of Canada.
Malala is known for her excellent speeches on international forums and also intends to join politics in the days to come. Speaking at the UN she once said that the attack on her did no harm but replaced her weakness, fear and hopelessness with strength, power and courage. At another event she emphasized that extremists have always been afraid of books and pen and they are paranoid of women.
Pakistani prime minister called her ‘the pride of Pakistan’ when she shared Nobel Peace Prize with an Indian humanitarian in 2013 urging the youth to take lead from her struggle and commitment. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon described her as ‘a brave and gentle advocate of peace who, through the simple act of going to school, became a global teacher’.
“I am Malala” – her autobiography published in October 2013 in both U.K. and the U.S. – coauthored by Christina Lamb provides details on Malala’s version of the story; her father’s influence on her life and activism; the rise & fall of Taliban; as well as the assassination attempt made against her. The book received positive critical reception and many awards around the world, though it was banned in many schools in Pakistan.
She burst into tears when she visited her homeland in 2018 for the first time after the attack amidst tight security. Notwithstanding the aspects of her age, circumstances and ripeness of mind a segment of local news media and a chunk of self-exacted opinionates on social media joined hands to oppose and blowout hatred for the young activist on loose forums. Her social media presence is a persistent target of the trolls who, for no good reason at all, try to throw cold water on every remarkable achievement of her. Nothing daunted, she continues to keep up the good work with greater zeal and commitment.
Indeed she is a hero of the nation championing advocacy of human rights and education. The treatment of her fellow countrymen to her is unfair and undeserving nevertheless. Yet a ray of hope are those few sane voices among all the hue & cry that give her the manifestation she merits.