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In between two discourses

October 19, 2012


ONE is not surprised by the move on the part of some groups to initiate a campaign to malign Malala Yousufzai by concentrating on drone strikes, the logic that the 14-year-old schoolgirl was under Western influence and the ‘conspiracy’ that led to the attack.

This has been done through mutilating facts and presenting quotes from Malala’s diaries written for the BBC out of context.

The attack has brought into focus the line between two fundamentally distinct socio-cultural and socio-political discourses and narratives in Pakistan.

There is, on the one hand, the discourse of non-violence, human dignity and intellectual curiosity. On the other hand, there is the discourse of suppression, enslavement and elimination. The attack on Malala drew a clear line between civilisation and barbarity in Pakistani society.

It is pertinent to note that the first discourse has emerged from the country’s northern mountainous region. In fact, as a symbol, Malala is the continuation of a narrative that has evolved in this part of the world over the last 100 years — starting from her namesake Malala Maiwand in the 19th century to Baacha Khan in the 20th century.

The discourse espoused by Malala builds on two theoretical and one strategic socio-cultural and socio-political patterns.

The theoretical constructs represent freedom of expression and fighting for the right to education. Malala spoke out when Swat valley was completely isolated from the rest of the world and when every sane voice had been silenced.

She spoke when the forces of darkness and obscurantism in the shape of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan held sway and were running a parallel state. Malala’s was a native voice that stood for human creativity and dignity as well as the realisation of the dreams of a free people.

She stood not only for indigenous — as opposed to borrowed — wisdom (but also for the humane values of modern civilisation. Hence, it is not surprising that Malala talked of Baacha Khan, Benazir Bhutto and Barack Obama as her ideals on a TV show several months ago.

She also struck at the roots of the tribal patriarchy by declaring she wanted to be a political activist. Political participation by the marginalised, especially women, is feared most by the obscurantists, the tribal mindset and religious extremists.

Through national and international recognition, she had become a symbol of empowerment for the marginalised, and gave courage and hope to hundreds and thousands of girls to stand up for education, freedom of expression and peace.

Malala stood for non-violence and the acceptance of diversity. She taught one how to be courageous and forthcoming and still trust the indigenous process of dialogue. She has raised this issue time and again in her diaries.

By implication, she wished for an intellectually, economically and politically independent Pakistan. She dreamt of a society that was pluralist, that ensured human dignity and that institutionalised intra- and inter-dialogue processes.

Then there is the other discourse that has always, consciously or unconsciously, wanted to eliminate Malala’s voice. It has been constituted to contaminate the discourse that supports human dignity, pluralism and the indigenous narrative — all linked with the values of modern civilisation.

This discourse manipulates ethnic, religious, sectarian and nationalist emotions, and it represents an aversion to knowledge, research and creativity.

It has always resulted in a mindset that shuns diversity, that despises innovation, and that leads to the rejection of freedom of expression. This distortion has also resulted in chronic socio-political polarisation and blood-sucking religious sectarianism.

It is this mindset that helped establish an education system — represented by curriculums, the learning environment and teachers trained for both the madressah and the public education system — that has cut off students from their own, pluralist history.

This education system pits our students against the rest of the world as well as against our forefathers. Pick up any textbook or visit any school or madressah and you will find hatred against other faiths, cultures, creeds and states. This education system never intended to develop critical thinking, skills, a sense of civic responsibility or indigenous wisdom. It was not intended to inculcate an aesthetic sense in our younger generation. Without the values mentioned, they will not be able to celebrate diversity, respect human dignity and hone their curiosity to create and invent.

Instead our education system — public and private, religious and secular — is developing rigidity, authoritarian mindsets, a desire to dominate the rest of the world and a belief that reality is unidimensional.

This education system, with all its cosmetic reforms, prepares intellectually sterile individuals. It is somehow strange on our part to expect valid arguments, dialogue and mediation skills or innovation from students graduating both from the public school system and the madressah. But Malala challenged all the established ideals despite being a student under the same education system.

Second, the discourse that has attempted to kill Malala’s voice represents economic, social and political dependence both at an individual and collective level. This is the result of curbing creativity and innovation.

Intentionally or otherwise, the state has come up with domestic and foreign policies that have resulted in a country where human security has not been given priority.

These policies have isolated Pakistan from the region and the rest of the world on the one hand and, on the other, made it economically dependent on other states. This pervasive mindset both within the state structures and among non-state actors has over the years resulted in the loss of Pakistan’s economic sovereignty.

Third, the discourse that attempts to kill Malala’s voice stresses on homogenisation, and considers everything that is unfamiliar and different either fearful or disgusting. Everything and everyone who is different and has a different worldview and everyone whose interpretation might be different and unfamiliar is considered an enemy by those harbouring this mindset.

This moment shall decide who stands by Malala’s discourse and who represents the militant discourse and the obscurantist mindset.

The writer is a socio-political analyst.