A letter from Dr Abdus Salam to Malala

Published October 11, 2014
You were mocked and alienated by your countrymen, when you did nothing wrong. I know something of that.
You were mocked and alienated by your countrymen, when you did nothing wrong. I know something of that.

Disclaimer: the blog post below is an imagining of what Dr Abdus Salam would convey to Malala today


Dear Malala,

Despite all that occurred, I’d always lugged around with me a sliver of optimism. They referred to me as Pakistan’s ‘only’ Nobel laureate; I insisted on being called the “first”.

I was born in a small town called Santokh Das; arguably not as beautiful as your Swat valley, but it did have much to offer. I grew up in Jhang, a city now tainted by its name’s association with dangerous groups.

My father was an education officer working for the Punjab government. I have a feeling your father would've liked him.

Like you, I took a keen interest in my studies. I enjoyed English and Urdu literature, but excelled at mathematics. At a very young age, I scored the highest marks ever recorded then, in my matriculation exam.

My education, however, was never as politically challenging as yours.

I did not have to contend with the Taliban destroying my school, or forbidding boys from receiving education. But whatever barriers they constructed in your way, you bravely broke through them.

In fact, you continue to defy them with every breath you take.

Winning the Nobel prize has enraged your attackers, as it has annoyed many of your countrymen.

It takes courage to walk through it all, and knowing you, courage is not in short supply.

Not a lot has changed in this country. You were mocked and alienated by your countrymen, when you did nothing wrong. I know something of that.

As a nation, we do not want to be celebrated.

What we wish for, is to be pitied.

They were pleased with you as long as you were another local victim. But then, you cast off your victimhood and emerged as a hero, a beacon of hope for young girls around the world. That’s where you lost them.

We don’t like heroes, Malala.

We like battered souls that we can showcase to the world. We want to humiliate the ‘colonialists’ and the ‘imperialists’ for their crimes, real or imagined, against the Muslims of the subcontinent.

We want them to acknowledge the Iqbalian paradise we lost to the plots and schemes of the ‘outsiders’. Any mention of the incalculable harm caused by perpetrators within us, does not assist that narrative.

We do not want to acknowledge the bigotry within, of which I know something too.

This is not something I had fully realised the day I received my Nobel prize. Standing in ceremonial Punjabi garb among a group of men in tuxedos, I was proud to represent my country, though my country was far less thrilled being represented by me.

I was demonized and successfully disenfranchised for my religious beliefs; I was not allowed to offer lectures in certain universities due to threats of violence; my work was belittled by my own people.

I decided that working abroad was better than being treated as foreigner in my own homeland. That only gave further wind to the hurtful theories about me being a ‘traitor’ to my country.

Now, the mantle passes to you, dearest child.

And with it, I regret to pass onto you the heart-wrenching burden it brings.

You are the new 'traitor'.

You are presented with the dire challenge of bringing peace and pride to a country, that doesn't want your gift.

Like a mother of a particularly rebellious child, you must find a way to love them nonetheless. Eventually, I pray, they will understand.

I had the privilege of being the first to offer this country a Nobel Prize. But now there are two of us.

And, I’m still counting.

Yours truly,
Abdus Salam

Opinion

Climate & youth

Climate & youth

Disillusionment and anxiety are on the rise among youth as they confront the diminishing prospects of a better tomorrow.
Our exclusivity syndrome
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Our exclusivity syndrome

Pakistan needs at least a minimum level of inclusivity that can keep alive democratic values.
Shafqat Kakakhel
Updated 16 Oct 2021

Shafqat Kakakhel

COP26 has to achieve consensus on several issues.

Editorial

Carnage in Kandahar
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Carnage in Kandahar

Pakistan’s anti-extremism policy is in many ways half-baked and inconsistent.
17 Oct 2021

Sanctity of contracts

PAKISTAN is facing yet another international dispute before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment...
17 Oct 2021

New sports policy

THIS week, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee chief Haroon Malik was in Zurich to hold ...
Diminishing freedom
Updated 16 Oct 2021

Diminishing freedom

DESPITE the serious reservations of digital rights activists and tech companies, the federal government has...
16 Oct 2021

Dirty politics

IN her outburst against Prime Minister Imran Khan this week, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz may not have taken names but...
16 Oct 2021

Decreasing emissions

THE announcement by SAPM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam that carbon emissions in the country came down by 9pc...