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Making sense of Malala

By: M Farman Kakar

Malala Day reminds us of honouring a peaceful solo effort that turned into a crusade. The polemics against Malala are grounded in patriarchal norms in a conservative setting in sync with the xenophobia of a world out there to harm Islam and Pakistan. The two have interacted with the politicisation of the Malala episode only to give vent to anger coming out of the conservative camp. Malala stands for a passionate nonviolent resistance to the conservatism-dominated social space.

Malala’s breach of the status quo cuts across several lines. Over decades, a paranoia has been haunting large segments of Pakistani society. Fed by misinformation and a distorted vision of the outside world, the unfounded fear is that there is an eternal enemy out there to harm the cause of Islam and malign Pakistan. Malala remains the high profile casualty of this phantom. The litany of complaints against her is profuse. She supposedly earned her religion and country a bad name by playing into the hands of the enemies to speak about the evils that many in Pakistan are subjected to. I Am Malala was a book not of her making. The many awards conferred on Malala and the projection of her shooting to instant worldwide fame were not out of a genuine belief in women’s rights among her sponsors. Were it for that reason, why would the US operate drone missions that kill many Malalas in FATA?

For male chauvinists, Malala violated the inviolable sanctity of the home. For a Pashtun girl from a modest background, it was not appropriate of her to open her heart to media outlets about the vicissitudes of a Pashtun woman’s life. Her father became the anathema for owning Malala’s cause despite all odds. Thus, for many, Malala should have kept silent only to suffer worse. Why is Malala in the eye of the storm?

Steeped in the trappings of xenophobia and patriarchy, Malala-bashing owes itself to the fact that she stands against a deadly status quo. She ended up not only posing a serious challenge to the xenophobes but also to male supremacists. The Malala Fund, which intends to empower girls through education “to raise their voices, to unlock their potential and to demand change”, is the Pakistani girl’s peaceful vision of change. If Malala’s ordeal was too deeply sucked into the publicity machine, what could she do to undo the politicisation of her trauma? Seen through a rational lens, Malala’s epic struggle does not qualify her as being either ‘anti-Islam’ or ‘anti-Pakistan’. By her own admission, Malala is a Muslim girl inspired by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) with true Gandhian zeal. She remains true to her word. Also, she aspires to be a politician to bring her country out from the plentitude of problems that plague it. Patriarchy is another endemic challenge, which Malala is grappling with.

Although neither social nor political space remains off limits to a Pakistani woman, male chauvinism is still deeply entrenched. This is truer of the rural reality than the urban. Malala’s association with the former speaks volumes about the enormity of the task she is up against. The Taliban denunciation of Malala and their threat that if she returns to Swat she will have to take admission in a seminary bears evidence to this effect. What Malala stands for does not stir trouble as much as why she stands up for it. It is not her cause but her gender that annoys many in the male dominated conservative social order.

The teenaged female activist stands for change. When once asked what he hated the most, Karl Marx’s reply was not capitalism but servility. For the 19th century great philosopher, only exceptional people can think out of their social existence. For Marx, whereas the need was to change the world, most philosophers only interpreted it. But does one not retain the right to believe in a lingering status quo?

Diversity of opinion is a practical reality. Every society has its polar divisions along conservative and liberal lines. Being on the radical fringe is disastrous, however. Uniformity is neither desirable nor possible. Owning one’s cause against the barrel of a gun is against the norms of a civilised society; achieving it through nonviolent means is the true Gandhian spirit. This is the true essence of Malalaism — a genuine belief in the achievement of a noble goal through peaceful means. Malala Day reminds us of this noble approach. Malalaism is truly the emblem of moderation that Pakistan desperately needs. The Malala ordeal is just the tip of the iceberg of the wider crisis of intolerance that plagues Pakistan. This should serve as a wakeup call to all of us. Our remedy lies in envisioning pluralism and diversity to the best of our capacities. Through syllabi, governments should inculcate diversity. Only when deeply ingrained with the idea of agreeing to disagree can we lead a peaceful life.

Daily Times