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Malala escapes the cauldron

Malala escapes the cauldron

By: IRFAN HUSAIN

STOP me if you’ve heard this one, but there was this guy waiting in line to be told whether he’d spend eternity in hell or heaven when a passing angel offered to take him around the underworld.

The visitor saw huge cauldrons with roaring fires below each one, and giants with cudgels standing guard. The guide explained that if a condemned sinner tried to climb out, the sentries would promptly knock him back in.

But when they passed by the cauldron full of Pakistanis, the visitor noticed there was no giant to guard it. When he asked why, the angel replied: “When Pakistanis try to escape, the others pull them down, so we don’t need a guard.”

This is what’s happening to poor Malala Yousafzai. Both Left and Right have joined hands to destroy her credibility after her eloquent and deeply moving speech at the UN recently. In a flurry of hostile, mean-spirited emails, the trolls on the internet have savaged the heroine from Swat, accusing her of being either Satan’s pawn, or an American agent.

Both points of view are part of what I call our overarching ‘yes, but…’ narrative. The affirmative is used to agree that the Taliban are violent terrorists, and then immediately comes this predictable anti-American riff: ‘But aren’t the Americans doing even worse things with their drones?’ This is followed by a whole litany of complaints about Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel.

It is this moral relativism that lets the Taliban off the hook and prevents a national consensus from developing. Even my old friend Ayaz Amir seems to have joined this chorus. In a recent column in The News, he wrote:

“‘Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists,’ she [Malala] said. But who are the terrorists? If we accept the American definition of terrorism that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are terrorists, is it all that irrelevant to ask as to who’s killed more people since the September 11 attacks, the ‘terrorists’ or the apostles of right, the Americans?”

Yes, Ayaz, it is an entirely irrelevant question. Terrorists are defined as people who target unarmed, innocent non-combatants to further political ends. States exercise a monopoly on violence, and often use it to defend their interests. There are international agreements and treaties that are supposed to prevent and govern warfare between states.

It is entirely legitimate and even necessary to debate and criticise the American use and abuse of its power. But to lay this burden on poor Malala’s young shoulders is a wicked thing to do. Ayaz Amir concedes that “Malala is not to be blamed”. But why conflate American wrongs, real and perceived, with Malala’s UN speech?

Ayaz Amir, like many other Pakistanis, has hailed the Taliban as freedom fighters.

Really? Who do the jihadis slaughtering Pakistanis by the thousands want to free the country from? When they blow up (Pakistani) Hazaras in Quetta, are they motivated by a burning desire for freedom? Or when they go about destroying (Pakistani) schools, do they think they are striking a blow for liberty? While they are beheading their (Pakistani) victims, do they see themselves as heroes of a liberation struggle?

This is a mindset shared by the Taliban on both sides of the border. And when people attempt to make a distinction between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban, they forget that they are ideological Siamese twins.

Many Pakistanis, on both Right and Left, are so consumed by their anti-Americanism that they close their eyes to what’s happening around them and to them. Our tormentors are Pakistanis, as are their victims. Let us not elevate the Pakistani Taliban to the level of the Vietcong or the PLO. Those who have slaughtered over 40,000 Pakistanis need to be identified as who they really are: killers who have no qualms about bringing death and destruction to thousands of innocent men, women and children.

In one anti-Malala diatribe, somebody posted this little gem: “Forget the image of your country, forget about the school. She [Malala] would eventually get what she was after, a life of luxury abroad.”

Actually, Malala is not leading a ‘life of luxury’: her father has been appointed an education officer at our consulate in Birmingham, and she’s going to school there. This is hardly living it up in St Tropez.

More to the point, this trope is similar to Musharraf’s infamous put-down of Mukhtaran Mai when he implied that her gang rape provided her with the opportunity to go abroad. Both the blogger and Musharraf seem more concerned about the image of Pakistan abroad than what’s happening in the country. And the reality of life in Pakistan for women is especially hard. According to most global indices, ours is one of the harshest environments in the world for women. Joining us at the bottom are India, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Recently, we learned that two girls had been killed by relatives just because a film clip of them dancing fully clothed in the rain was uploaded to the internet.

Another unfortunate woman was reported to have been killed at the command of a tribal jirga for possessing a cellphone. These are stories that barely make it to page six of the national newspapers. Not a day passes without news of some gruesome atrocity committed against women.

In our ferociously patriarchal society, when a woman achieves something the world applauds, should we not be proud? Should we not shower her with bouquets instead of brickbats? When somebody climbs out of the cauldron reserved for Pakistani women, must we try to drag her back?

It is typical of our cynical mindset that even when there is poetic justice in Malala’s rebuttal of everything the Taliban stand for, there should be catcalls instead of cheers. In a country so short of heroes, it is ironic that Malala should have more admirers abroad than she does in Pakistan.
irfan.husain@gmail.com

DAWN

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