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Malala won’t be airbrushed out

Published Oct 12, 2012 10:03pm


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“I AM worried about Malala. The whole of Swat is worried about her. But every girl in Swat is Malala. We’ll educate ourselves. We will win. They can’t defeat us.”

This was a teenaged classmate of Malala Yousufzai being interviewed live on TV from Mingora. Steeped in courage, her words were delivered with indescribable resolve, a beaming face. Such resolve that a pessimist like me felt she was delivering a stinging slap on my cheek.

Then there was Kainaat. She was travelling in the same school van as Malala and was also wounded in the attack. Her determination appeared equally steely. She was certain nothing was going to stop her from returning to school with the eventual aim of becoming a doctor.

Then as one surfed channels many more Malalas were expressing admiration for their iconic schoolmate. Not one appeared unsure of the way forward. What can you do but salute the tenacity of the girls as well as their lion-hearted parents?

And the teachers. Malala’s teacher spoke with great pride, warmth and affection for his student, the child prodigy: “Such children aren’t born every day. She’s such a gifted child. It is our collective responsibility to support her, protect her. The government must do its part.”

Many months ago when this column focused a tad too frequently on the content of Pakistani TV discussion programmes, my editor advised against too much focus on this one area. He was right.

On this particular occasion, however, one was grateful for the idiot box as a diversity of opinion was beamed directly into the comfort of one’s study. This is where the gratitude ended. To say that the entire spectrum was not welcome would be an understatement.

Pakistan has come to represent such a roller-coaster that it seems to strive daily to live up to Dicken’s words: “… it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …”

The TV output was no different. It mirrored society.

There was good news. Despite being shot at point-blank range in the head, Malala was somehow going to defy the assassin with her now legendary single-mindedness. She would survive. There were also the voices of her courageous (the word seems so inadequate) friends and classmates.

But then Jamaat-i-Islami’s former amir Qazi Hussain Ahmad made an appearance. He seemed to condemn the attack on the teenaged Swat student and in the same breath also condemned those who, in his words, “used Malala”. He didn’t elaborate. Neither was he asked to.

This was the first in a series of ‘we condemn the attack but…’ statements. Qazi Hussain Ahmad was not the only one who was not willing to condemn this dastardly attack without qualifying his condemnation. Many others created binaries where none existed.

Imran Khan came in for stick on social media for his perceived support to the Taliban but hasn’t he demonstrated his disdain for extremism? Wasn’t he one of the few politicians in the country to visit the bloodied Shia-Hazaras in Quetta, in rushing to Chilas after the mass murder of Shia travellers?

Referring to the attempt on Malala’s life, he talked about the scourge of extremism which he mostly blamed on the US-led war on terror. When the presenter pressed him to name the attackers, Imran Khan reluctantly said the Taliban.

When asked to condemn the Taliban, he was open in saying his party had a presence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata and that he didn’t want to give statements condemning the Taliban and leave “my party workers undefended” at their mercy.

This statement at least clarified that he has shied away from unequivocally slamming the Taliban for the sake of his party workers’ safety and not on ideological grounds. One suspects the PTI leader understands the sort of threat the ANP and PPP must face at each of their public events.

This must be a major handicap for his rivals. As election approaches, the PTI is able to gather large crowds every few days in relative safety. Mr Khan must be hoping this generates enough momentum to have a snowball effect at the poll, leaving his Taliban-targeted opponents stranded.

This may be a fantastic tactical move. One hopes he has strategic options up his sleeve so he doesn’t end up risking a Kargil-type situation. Our army has scored similar own goals including the one manifesting itself in the militant threat that has claimed thousands of our soldiers besides civilians.

It was never a conflict we could afford to lose. Factors such as archaic tribal and feudal practices mean a steady diet of abuse of women’s rights anyway. Whether jirgas sanction wani or honour killings; whether it is gang rape or acid attacks we know the victim is almost always a woman.

Now religious extremism has created a new form of women’s oppression. This may owe its birth to a parallel national narrative contrived in the Zia years but it has also grown, gone from strength to strength unchallenged since. Before we move on it is vital to decide on one, single narrative.

Otherwise, this mix of confusion, polarisation and the paralysis it causes will destroy us. We have to somehow acknowledge we live in the 21st century, and are part of a larger world.

Women are more than half our population. Isn’t it an economic and social imperative that women and men are equal?

The Taliban and other forces of darkness would so wish they could do here in all public spaces what the well-known Swedish store chain Ikea did in Saudi Arabia: airbrush women models off their catalogue.

Thank God they can’t. Malala stands in their way. Their ideology may be toxic; her determination is life-affirming. Just imagine what’ll happen if Malala inspires millions of people, particularly the weak-kneed like me, to stand up for once and be counted.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


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Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (17) Closed

citizen Oct 13, 2012 03:21pm
I am sure in my mind that the only strategy that will win us this war is not by using planes and drones but by exposing the ideology of these people for what is really is, a very dangerous and regressive mentality which is bent on destroying everything. The sheer momentum generated by peoples revulsion will destroy them. bombing them on the other hand gives them life ironically.
newsr Oct 13, 2012 05:57pm
They are not shot in head or spine they are very much stable and in consicous.
kausik Oct 13, 2012 10:03pm
Plese save Malala and her 2 companions fighting for life for the sake of education of girls as they reflect aspiration of millions of girls of all hues looking to be educated.
G.A. Oct 13, 2012 11:58am
What use our tanks and fighter jets and half a million soldiers when our 14 year old girls have to take on these extremists on their own simply to earn their basic right - the right to education??
M. Omar Oct 13, 2012 04:51pm
Best way to pay tribute to Malala is to make her dream come true. Let he father open a bank a/c and inform everyone through the media to donate to Malala Education Foundation to make education available not only in Swat but also throughout the country to education girls. Let us hope when she regains conciousness, she sees this miracle also.
Shirin Oct 13, 2012 04:51pm
you can ask that. And the answer is that the whole world, the UN, India, US, really the whole world, focused only on Malala. So the question should be asked of the whole world.
Dr Nadira Hasnain Oct 14, 2012 01:25pm
Very well written, Abbas. Keep on your efforts on important issues in Pakistan . Malala will IA survive to achieve her and all the girl's goals of getting their education.
Abdus Salam Khan Oct 13, 2012 01:23pm
Thank you for standing up to be counted, Nasir Sahib. Malala has now become a symbol, a rallying flag for the Forces of Truth battling the Forces of Falsehood.. She stand for all those who chose to lay down their lives for a just cause,from the Battle Ground of Karbalah to the Valley of Swat..Let us not forget that the Forces of Yazid also claimed to be the Custodians of Islam. She has posed for all of us the challenge posed by Allah the Almighty in Sura Takwir: "When the one buried alive shall be asked: For what sin was she murdered?" (81:8.9)
Agha Ata (USA) Oct 13, 2012 02:29pm
Do not worry. Mr. Masir. Everybody can become educated, but no one can ever become ignorant again.
Rajeev Oct 13, 2012 04:21pm
You are right, the reason that in Pakistan now the religion of the majority community is more important than human life in general and particularly, a girl`s life specially. Religion has become more prominent than God and God`s supreme creation : human life
NASAH (USA) Oct 13, 2012 06:12am
If Me. Khan avoids unlike the three brave mainstream parties in not naming the Talibans as the enemy -- that will be -- if not cowardice -- sheer opportunism. Imran Khan must publicly condemn the Talibans -- by name -- for what they did to Malala Yusuzai -- in order to level the playing field for the elections.
Mohni Oct 13, 2012 04:18am
One other long term contribution of Malala would be to galvanise girls to educate themselves and tell their parents the importance of girl education. When I was growing up my role model was Benazir. She could do what her brothers could not. She was a women who led a party, got married and even gave birth to a child as a Prime Minister. I did get disillusioned with her politics but her empowering personality and her courage is beacon of light for me. even for Malala. She has created a powerful role model which will go long way in empowerment of women.
kausik Oct 13, 2012 07:55am
This is a very well written blog as i can feel the agony of the writer for this grave injustice and as women make 50% of population and if Pakistan has to progress women need to participate in their economy.As a father of very well educated daughter and nieces and granddaughters it pains me immensely that this courageous girl malala had to face bullets for aspiring education.I compliment Dawn in giving the coverage and letting all Pakistan aware of this horrible crime.I hope Pakistan will root out this injustice.
Gautam Oct 13, 2012 12:00pm
I see lots of protests in response to Innocence of muslims. However, I have not seen any such protests when a young girl was attacked who is trying to learn against all the odds. Is not shameful for all the religio political parties who are not coming out in numbers against this vicious attack?
El Cid Oct 13, 2012 12:48pm
The truth is that Taliban never said that they are against the education of women or that Islam is against girls going to school. This is foreign demanded establishment nurtured narrative. What has been veiled by poor translation and biased journalism is that the Taliban objected to the spread of western culture and foreign religious scriptures stealthy imposed on their families. Thousands of copies of foreign religious literature, Bibles translated into Pastho and Dahri were being shipped, distributed by foreign soldiers. And taught in school, private houses and tuition centers, by missionaries disguised as aid workers, social workers. And teachers.
Amir Saeed Oct 13, 2012 11:37am
Bravo! Great Article.
raika45 Oct 13, 2012 10:33am
With due respect and advance apology,let me ask you people a question.Why all this attention only on Malala? Don't the other two girls shot count in your feelings and attention?