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The Malala backlash

By: BINA SHAH

WHY has Malala Yousufzai’s speech at the UN on July 12, her 16th birthday, created such admiration all over the world, only to be met with a nasty backlash against the young education activist in Pakistan?

Perhaps the negative reaction of many Pakistanis to the young girl is the carping of jealous nobodies, but it bears examining because it says something profound about Pakistan.

The reaction to Malala’s words was swift in Pakistan; barely hours after she made her inspirational speech, people began complaining about its contents, the fact that the UN had dedicated an entire day to her, and the adulation she was receiving from world leaders by her side. Ignoring the text of her speech, which spoke out for the rights of girls and women and implored world leaders to choose peace instead of war, the naysayers tore down the young woman, her father, and Western nations for supporting her in her quest for education.

The insults flowed freely: Malala Dramazai was a popular epithet that popped up on Facebook pages and Twitter. The whole shooting was staged by “the West” and America, who control the Taliban. She was being used to make Pakistan feel guilty for actions that were the fault of the Western powers in the first place. Posters were circulated that showed Mukhtaran Mai and Malala with Xs through their faces, and berated the two women for speaking out about their experiences in order to receive money, popularity and asylum abroad.

Another popular refrain was “drone attacks”. Why had Malala not spoken out about drones at the UN? Why did everyone care so much about Malala and not the other girls murdered by drones? Why did America kill innocent children with drones and then lionise the young Malala to make themselves feel good that they actually cared about the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan?

It was a shameful display of how Pakistanis have a tendency to turn on the very people they should be proud of. Prof Abdus Salam fell victim to this peculiar Pakistani phenomenon, as well as the murdered child labour activist Iqbal Masih, Rimsha Masih, who recently received asylum for the threats to her life after the blasphemy case, and Kainat Soomro, the brave child who had been gang-raped and actually dared to take on her attackers. Pakistanis have very deliberately abandoned these brave champions of justice, and each time one more joins their ranks, the accusations of fame mongering, Western agendas, and money ring out louder and louder.

The insults to Malala had a decidedly sexist tone, the comparison to Mukhtaran Mai — another Pakistani hero — making it obvious that rather than embracing female survivors of hideous, politically motivated violence, Pakistanis prefer them to shut up and go away, not to use their ordeals as a platform to campaign for justice.

DAWN

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