Hating Malala

Published October 13, 2013

WHY do they hate her so? At least with the TTP it isn’t hard to figure out: Malala has publicly and powerfully defied them. But why do so many ordinary, seemingly normal folk hate her?

Shame is an obvious possibility. Malala is the world’s most famous teenager. Her bravery and idealism have inspired millions. And yet, we’ve only had the privilege of witnessing Malala’s bravery and idealism because Pakistan has become the kind of place where a teenage girl is shot in the face for speaking about a girl’s right to education.

That’s pretty grotesque stuff, and something the haters know the rest of the world fawning over Malala is aware of.

But shame doesn’t cut it as an explanation. For where’s the rage against the TTP then? If the victim has earned scorn for unwittingly bearing testimony to the monstrousness that stalks this land, then why not opprobrium for the perpetrators too?

No, it feels less like guilt and shame and more like resentment. Resentment against a teenager shot in the face for speaking about a girl’s right to education?

Surely, that’s not what your average Pakistani has been reduced to? The easy — and to some, the obvious — answer is: yes, that is in fact what we have become.

In part because the implications of the simple answer are too horrifying to dwell on and also because simple explanations rarely fit something as complicated as societal perceptions, let’s try and search for a fuller explanation.

Why are so many ordinary, seemingly normal people consumed with anti-Malalaism?

It’s fair to say that your average Pakistani isn’t terribly impressed by the state. He loves Pakistan, he is attached to the land that comprises Pakistan, he fiercely believes in Pakistan as an idea, but when it comes to that most basic of questions in the state-society equation — how well does your state serve your needs? — he is not terribly impressed.

Nor should he be. Pakistan is a declining state. The ability of the state to positively intervene in people’s lives or to create an environment that allows people to pursue their life priorities as they see fit has been in decline for years, decades.

Forget the Taliban for a minute. It’s the everyday stuff that the state is supposed to provide the most that the state is failing at the most.

Basic security in neighbourhoods and homes? It’s been outsourced to the citizenry, rural and urban: higher walls, stronger gates and, for those who can afford it, personal guards.

Education and health? It’s been outsourced to the private sector, rural and urban: fee-charging schools, after-school tuition, private clinics, expensive medicines.

Justice? Fuggedaboutit. Water? Which brand of bottled water would you prefer? Entertainment or sport? Head to your nearest mall. Parks? See your local land grabber first. Public transport? Take your pick between a deathtrap on wheels or on rails. Sanitation? For Chrissake. Electricity?

If it ended at that, perhaps it would be all right. But your average Pakistani doesn’t just have to turn to the private market for virtually everything the state ought to be providing, he has to spend to protect himself from a predatory state.

Direct spending when it comes to dealing with, say, the lower judiciary and the police; indirect spending when it comes to dealing with, say, the health fallout of businesses and industries that pollute.

It sucks to be a Pakistani in Pakistan. And it sucks, largely, because the state is in decline.

A declining state engenders no love or loyalty. If the corpus of its laws and rules fails to create a system that delivers meaningfully and positively, why should the average citizen automatically rally to that system’s defence when it is under threat?

Sixty-six years into an irreversible experiment, the state — its structure, its systems, its rules — is still up for negotiation because the state has failed to make an irrefutable case to its people that the present structure, system and rules are the only ones that can work for Pakistan.

We’re still collectively standing around the drawing board, unconvinced by the model scrawled across it. And when you’re still stuck at the drawing-board stage, there’s always the possibility that someone will elbow their way to the board, chalk in hand, and present a different model.

Enter the Taliban.

Ever wonder why the pro-talks brigade is so quiet about what exactly can be negotiated with the Taliban? As in, what can we offer them in return for them ceasing their violence?

It’s fairly obvious: the bits about Islam. Tweak a few laws here and there, suggest some modifications to the judicial process, bring religion yet more explicitly into the functioning of the state — where’s the harm in any of that?

That’s the problem with a state that has failed to stamp an irreversible identity for itself. By staying in the realm of the abstract, of the negotiable and re-negotiable, it opened the door to an alternative discourse, a replacement theory.

Folk may hate the Taliban’s violence, but few would in principle argue against the Taliban’s basic idea for the state: more religion will lead to peace, security and maybe even prosperity.

What does any of that have anything to do with Malala? Why hate a young girl with so evidently a beautiful mind and spirit?

Because she speaks of the old model, of a state that is rooted in universal and modern principles and tenets, that delivers equally to all without recourse to religion. But there’s a new theory in town and it’s spread far and wide in this land of ours.

The Taliban have never been and will never be the principal threat to the Pakistani state as it was once conceived, but that failed to materialise. It’s the shared belief between the Taliban and the public in the essence of the Taliban mission that is the principal threat.

For better or worse, a state can’t exactly swap out swathes of its population and replace them with new citizens. But a state can, in theory at least, eliminate the purveyors of an ideology that make it possible for so many to hate a teenage girl who was shot in the face for speaking about a girl’s right to education.

But can an already declining state do any such thing? Long live the Taliban! Down with Malala!

The writer is a member of staff.


Twitter: @cyalm



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