The honor of Malala Yusufzai’s Nobel peace prize should unite Pakistan – instead it has divided us.
The award has split Pakistanis along class, geographic and gender lines.
Overseas Pakistanis and many Pakistani women are largely overjoyed. Most view her achievement as a well-deserved culmination of a long hard struggle.
A struggle that saw this teenage girl from an educated family from the Swat Valley, survive a brutal Taliban attack to become a global beacon and an advocate for female education.
For Pakistanis living in the West, Malala represents an instantly recognisable counter-point to the likes of Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Her persona shields many a Pakistani youth living abroad from a perception that they hail from a culture that represents a lesser moral code.
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For such youth, Malala’s triumph reaffirms, not only the virtues of moral courage that they have been raised with, but also the pluralism in the West.
At its core, her winning the Nobel echoes the value-set of the Pakistani diaspora living overseas, albeit more dramatic than most: Talented, hard working, and well-meaning people are recognised – and rewarded – in Western societies far more readily than in their own homeland.
Many women and men living in Pakistan see a young girl’s success as paving the way for many others like her. Her stance against the Taliban delivered a blow to a part of the Pakistani society that denigrates women and denies them rights.
After witnessing multiple girls’ schools destroyed by the Taliban in Pakistan, a young girl’s defiance proves that enfranchisement can be reclaimed from the worst of bullies. Some might even view her surviving the assassination attempt as divine intervention.
A majority of men in Pakistan, on the other hand, view the young Nobel Prize winner as a pawn in the Western conspiracy to malign Pakistan.
They view her as a Western stooge who is being paraded around the world to underscore the backwardness of the Pakistani society, whilst her opportunistic father pushes the cause in order to line his own pocket.
Malala’s critics consider the caricature of Pakistan as a nation overrun with extremists in the Western media as part of a plot to diminish their nation’s reputation.
They see Malala as contributing to Pakistan’s image problem. Rather than be proud of her achievement, Pakistanis who criticise Malala feel embarrassed by her survival.
In their criticism, they often overlook three glaring points:
The Nobel Prize recognises her intent – not her impact.
They argue that her accomplishments are meager to warrant such an honor when far more accomplished philanthropists in Pakistan have affected many more lives. But this Nobel Prize was not for philanthropic impact, but for the intent, to persevere.
The Nobel Prize was not Malala’s decision.
You cannot “buy” a Nobel Prize.
It certainly wasn’t her decision, nor her father’s. After her original decision to pursue her education and persevere against the Taliban, most of what followed, from the attempt on her life to the Nobel peace prize, was a response of the people, the societies, and the environment around her. A conspiracy by definition is a secret plan hatched by a group to do something harmful. How does the Nobel committee’s decision to award a young girl the Peace prize harm anyone?
The Nobel Prize serves to highlight her as a role model
For young girls seeking education around the world against heavy odds, Malala’s Nobel Prize represents hope.
The award acknowledges a desire for learning in all young Muslim women. Malala simply forms a symbol of that faith.
Also read: Malala — idol to the world, outcast at home
In a larger sense, Malala’s success is a tacit recognition of a victim of terror who represents the plight of many others who share her faith all over the world suffering in silence at the hands of extremists. Why pick on the victims?
For those who criticise her, would they wish Malala’s fate on their own daughters? Would they begrudge their own daughter’s success if she were to win an honour overseas?
The answer would be an emphatic no to both these questions.
Also read: A letter from Dr Abdus Salam to Malala
If they could only view Malala’s achievement as benefiting all of Pakistan’s daughters who aspire to learn, pursue scholarships, and seek higher education.
If Malala’s critics viewed it through this prism, they’d be hard pressed to not celebrate the achievements of this brave child.
They might then recognise that the trail that Malala’s celebrity has blazed in the West might someday pave the way for their own daughter’s aspirations.